By John Beauge
A Bucknell professor is undertaking a study on the effects sedimentation from Marcellus Shale natural gas activity is having on the ecosystem of the Susquehanna River watershed.
Once sedimentation gets into a stream it can last a long time, says Matthew E. McTammany, an associate professor of biology and environmental studies.
The project is part of a collaborative initiative that includes the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Bucknell, Lycoming College and Lock Haven University, he says.
There has not been a detailed study on sedimentation in the Marcellus Shale like there has been in Fayette Shale in Arkansas, he says.
McTammany cites research papers that note data required to fully understand potential threats from the natural gas development to the ecosystem structure is currently lacking.
Susquehanna University has awarded him $7,300 from the $2.25 million grant it received from the Richard King Mellon Foundation last May to do research to further understand the ecological issues impacting the Susquehanna River.
In his proposal for funding, McTammany notes:
■ Natural gas exploration of Marcellus Shale involves construction and heavy use of gravel roads along with clearing land for well pads and constructing pipelines.
■ Sediments disturbed during these processes can enter streams and potentially have negative impacts on biological communities and ecological processes.
■ Given the high density of small streams where natural gas development occurs in Pennsylvania, the potential consequences for local streams are severe across a large area.
■ Seven sites are to be studied on streams scattered from Clearfield County on the west to Bradford County on the east and Woodhull, New York on the north, McTammany said.
Three of the locations have no natural gas drilling activity or infrastructures like roads or pipelines in their watersheds, he says.
The other four represent the same land gradient but have natural gas activity and infrastructure, he says. One of the sites has double the number of well pads as the other three, he says.
“We thought it would be interesting to have a stream that is experiencing more extensive natural gas development, since one was available from the set of streams proposed by SRBC,” McTammany says.
Steps will be taken to evaluate leaf breakdown along with surveying benthic macro invertebrates, algal abundance, nutrient concentrations, stream flow, substrate characteristics, and other water quality parameters during each stream visit, he says.
The river basin commission will be conducting fish surveys and other routine water quality monitoring throughout the project, he says.
The goal is to have the field work completed by early to mid-fall so the results can be presented to the Susquehanna River Symposium that will be hosted by Bucknell, McTammany says.
In awarding the grant, Susquehanna noted in 2011 the Susquehanna River was named the most endangered in the nation by the nonprofit group American Rivers.