SkyTruthing –> AirTruthing –> GroundTruthing the Marcellus Shale

Paul getting ready to fly our Marcellus target area today.

Today our intrepid water-quality team went up in the air on a reconnaissance flight of new Marcellus Shale gas-drilling sites in northern Pennsylvania, thanks to our flying friends at LightHawk.  Paul, intern Ben, and videographer Ed got a great aerial tour of the three watersheds within the Susquehanna drainage that we targeted using satellite and aerial imagery and GIS data to identify current drilling activity.  Intern Michelle is taking a short break from her Gulf of Mexico oil-pollution duties and is joining them to help take water-quality measurements in streams throughout these watersheds, to see if we can identify any impacts from drilling and fracking.  Paul told me this afternoon they saw plenty of signs of fracking: well sites crowded with rectangular tanks that look similar to the cargo containers that get stacked up on oceangoing freighters. He also said the drilling sites they saw appeared shipshape, with erosion-control measures in place; but the access roads were another story.

Fracking tanks lined up at Marcellus Shale drilling site near Dimock, Pennsylvania in 2010. Photo copyright J Henry Fair.

So what will they find this weekend?  We really don’t know.  Hopefully, nothing unusual.  But in some places folks have noticed degraded water quality associated with the onset of drilling activity.  This may happen for a variety of reasons.  Our team will measure temperature, pH, conductivity and turbidity, and compare these measurements with pre-drilling baseline water quality data available from the state.  We’ll let you know what we learn.