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Fracking in the Delaware River Basin

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011
The Potential Impact to our Natural Resources

by Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

Figure 1: A diagram of how the hydraulic fracturing process works to extract natural gas

Many residents of New Jersey may have heard about hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus Shale and the potential ecological  impacts to the Delaware River Basin. The following provides an overview of the process of hydraulic fracturing and impacts to our natural resources in New Jersey.

The Mar­cel­lus Shale is sed­i­men­tary rock buried thou­sands of feet under the ground.  It extends from upstate New York south through Penn­syl­va­nia and to West Vir­ginia and west to parts of Ohio.  The nat­ural gas in the shale is trapped in tiny spaces and fis­sures within the rock.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking uses high-pressure pumps to inject a mix of water, sand, and chemicals into drilled wells that will fracture the shale rock to open cracks and release natural gas (Figure 1).  A well can be repeatedly fracked and each gas field incorporates many wells.  The process takes an enormous amount of water using an average of 4.5 million gallons of water to frack a well and a well can potentially be fracked up to 18 times.  Many chemicals are used in this process, some of which are known to be toxic and known carcinogens (e.g. benzene, glycol ethers).  Some chemicals are unknown because they are still considered proprietary by the industry.  Many of the chemicals cannot biodegrade so if released into the air or water they are there to stay. (more…)