Impacts of Fracking in the Marcellus Shale Threatens National Parks

Test well near Upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreational RiverThirty-five national parks overlie or are in the vicinity of the geological formation called the “Marcellus Shale.” Covering approximately 48,000 square miles, the Marcellus Shale formation occurs beneath the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. An estimated 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be recovered from the formation, enough to supply the entire United States at current rates of consumption for 15 years. 

While scientists have long known about the resources of the Marcellus Shale, modern advances in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," are allowing access to the country’s shale gas reserves as never before. Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into a well to fracture the shale and release the natural gas trapped within. Currently, the chemicals used in fracking do not have to be disclosed to the public.

National Parks Most Impacted

All 35 units on or adjacent to the Marcellus Shale face potential impacts from drilling. However, the units along the Delaware River—Upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, Middle Delaware National Scenic River, and Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area—face the most imminent threat. These parks draw 5.4 million annual visitors and provide exceptional recreational opportunities in one of the cleanest rivers in the country. The parks are home to spellbinding waterfalls and diverse wildlife that includes bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and black bear. With 15,000 to 18,000 natural gas wells anticipated in the Delaware River watershed alone, the impacts could be severe. 

While all of the impacts of the natural gas boom have yet to be fully understood, impacts to our national parks may include:

  • Water contamination related to drilling and the disposal of drilling fluid
  • Reductions in stream flow and ground water levels
  • Air quality degradation
  • Impacts to wildlife
  • Impacts to night skies and soundscapes
  • Impacts to cultural resources
  • Safety concerns

Regulations

Each state has its own framework for regulating the development of the Marcellus Shale. Therefore, the regulations on drilling adjacent to national park units will vary greatly. 

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), an agency that includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, regulates activities within the Delaware River watershed and has drafted new regulations.  Unfortunately, a full environmental review was not done prior to the DRBC moving forward with the regulations.  As currently drafted, the regulations do not offer sufficient protections to the environment and nearby national parks from the impacts of drilling. Once the regulations are enacted, the moratorium currently in place will be lifted and drilling will begin.

National Parks Overlying or Near the Marcellus Shale

Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS (within)
Andrew Johnson NHS (near)
Appalachian NST (within)
Blue Ridge PKWY (near)
Bluestone NSR (within)
Booker T Washington NM (near)
Cedar Creek & Belle Grove NHP (near)
Cumberland Gap NHP (near, also in black shale)
Cuyahoga Valley NRA (near, also in black shale)
Delaware Water Gap NRA (near eastern edge)
Eisenhower NHS (near)
Eleanor Roosevelt NHS (near)
Flight 93 NMem (within)
Fort Necessity NB (within)
Fort Stanwix NM (within)
Friendship Hills NHS (within)
Gauley River NRA (within)
Gettysburg NMP (near)
Great Smokey Mountains NP (near)
Harpers Ferry NHP (near)
Home of Franklin D Roosevelt NHS (near)
Hopewell Cultural NHP (near, also in black shale)
James A Garfield NHS (within)
Johnstown Flood Nmem (within)
Martin Van Buren NHS (near)
Middle Delaware NSR (within)
Morristown NHP (near)
New River Gorge NR (within)
Saratoga NHP (near)
Shenandoah NP (near)
Steamtown NHS (within)
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural NHS (near)
Upper Delaware SSR (within)
Vanderbilt Mansion NHS (near)
Women’s Rights NHP (near)

Contact Information

For additional information, contact Nick Lund, nlund@npca.org or 202-454-3319. 

Learn more about NPCA's Mid-Atlantic Regional Office.

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