Study estimates impacts if Delaware River basin fracing bans were lifted

Up to 4,000 more natural gas wells on 500-1,000 well pads within the Delaware River basin could be drilled if hydraulic fracturing moratoriums there and in New York state were lifted, a CNA Corp. report estimated on Aug. 11.

Most of the new wells would be atop the Marcellus shale in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New York, the study by the Arlington, Va., non-profit research and analysis organization added. It said the study focused on Delaware River basin locations where development reasonably could be expected and did not consider other shale formations in the region.

Paul Faeth, director of CNA’s Energy, Water, and Climate division and coauthor of the report, said it provides information to help understand potential fracing impacts within the basin before they occur. “We were surprised by some of the results,” he noted.

The report mainly concluded that:

· The total basin land area that would be disturbed by the additional fracing could be 18-26 square miles.

· Development of well pads and rights-of-way for gathering lines and roads could disturb 17-23 acres per pad. Most of the impact, 75%, would come from gathering lines.

· Water withdrawals during periods of maximum well development could range from 70% from small streams during low-flow conditions to less than 3% during normal flow periods.

· Installation of multiple compressor stations to support additional gas development could as much as double nitrogen oxide emissions in affected counties.

· Roughly 45,000 people live within a mile of projected well pad sites, a distance the report said scientific literature has related to health risk factors. This population is predominantly in Wayne County, Pa., where nearly 60% of the residents may be affected, it indicated.

“If natural gas development occurs as projected, infrastructure will become a widespread and prominent feature of the landscape in the Upper [Delaware River basin],” the report concluded. “At a basic level, drilling rigs and truck traffic will have temporary effects near any one well pad, but over a long build-out, they could become common within the basin.”

It said well pads, roads, and pipelines would most likely be long-term—30 years or more—or, in some case, permanent features of the landscape. “Similarly, management of water, wastewater, and air emissions can create both short- and long-term impacts to the region,” it added.              

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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