The Potential Effects of Unconventional Oil and Gas Development on Eastern Brook Trout

Science Center Objects


The Upper Susquehanna River watershed (PA) has experienced a rapid increase in unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development since it is part of the Marcellus shale formation. It is also part of the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay, which is the focus of considerable conservation and restoration activities by federal and state agencies under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. Brook trout are of significant economic and cultural importance in this region, and require high quality, cold-water habitats to persist throughout the watershed.

The Study and Key Findings

Photo of a stream by D. Kazyak, provided by D. Faulkner

The Federal Multiagency Collaboration on Unconventional Oil and Gas Research identified key research questions for DOI and other agencies to provide information to stakeholders in support of safely and responsibly developing domestic UOG resources. The USGS was tasked with assessing possible ecological effects of UOG development and to identify and prioritize aquatic communities that are most vulnerable to impact from UOG activities. The study was funded by the USGS and the National Science Foundation. The key findings include:

  • Eleven percent of brook trout streams in the Upper Susquehanna River Basin were impacted by current UOG development.
  • Most streams impacted had poor underlying brook trout habitat quality due to pre-existing non-UOG land uses, such as agriculture, residential and commercial development, and historic mining.
  • The model predicted a loss of brook trout in 126 (4%) of streams impacted by existing UOG, including four Pennsylvania Class A designated streams.


  • This paper used empirical data to analyze and model context-dependent impacts on brook trout distribution from current and future UOG development. The findings and underlying model can be used by stakeholders to identify streams where additional UOG development may impact brook trout and to prioritize restoration activities.
  • Some of the stakeholders working to improve stream conditions for brook trout in the Chesapeake watershed include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, and other state wildlife management agencies. Additional stakeholders include Trout Unlimited, American Fisheries Society, and other regional and local organizations.
Brook Trout - photo by D. Kazyak, provided by S. Faulkner

Additional Information

The article “Brook trout distributional response to unconventional oil and gas development: landscape context matters” by Merriam et al. can be accessed at:








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