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Shale gas development has limited effects on stream biology and geochemistry in a gradient-based, multiparameter study in Pennsylvania

February 3, 2020

The number of horizontally drilled shale oil and gas wells in the United States has increased from nearly 28,000 in 2007 to nearly 127,000 in 2017, and research has suggested the potential for the development of shale resources to affect nearby stream ecosystems. However, the ability to generalize current studies is limited by the small geographic scope as well as limited breadth and integration of measured chemical and biological indicators parameters. This study tested the hypothesis that a quantifiable, significant relationship exists between the density of oil and gas (OG) development, increasing streamwater concentrations of known geochemical tracers of OG extraction, and the composition of benthic macroinvertebrate and microbial communities. 25 headwater streams that drain lands across a gradient of shale gas development intensity were sampled. Our strategy included comprehensive measurements across multiple seasons of sampling to account for temporal variability of geochemical parameters, including known shale OG geochemical tracers, and microbial and benthic macroinvertebrate communities. No significant relationships were found between the intensity of OG development, shale OG geochemical tracers, or benthic macroinvertebrate or microbial community composition, whereas significant seasonal differences in stream chemistry were observed. These results highlight the importance of considering spatial and temporal variability in stream chemistry and biota and not only the presence of anthropogenic activities in a watershed. This comprehensive, integrated study of geochemical and biological variability of headwater streams in watersheds undergoing OG development provides a robust framework for examining the effects of energy development at a regional scale.

Citation Information

Publication Year
Title Shale gas development has limited effects on stream biology and geochemistry in a gradient-based, multiparameter study in Pennsylvania
DOI 10.1073/pnas.1911458117
Authors
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Series Number
Index ID 70210505
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization