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, which is enough to supply the entire United States at current rates of consumption for roughly fourteen 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 thirty-five national parks on or adjacent to the Marcellus Shale face potential impacts from fracking activities. 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—especially have a lot at stake. These parks draw 5.4 million visitors annually and provide exceptional recreational opportunities in and along one of the cleanest rivers in the country. The parks are home to spell-binding waterfalls and diverse wildlife including trout, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and black bears. 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 natural quiet
  • Impacts to cultural resources
  • Safety concerns


Each state has its own regulatory framework for regulating fracking activities. Therefore, the regulations on drilling adjacent to national park units will vary greatly. 

In Pennsylvania, Governor-elect Tom Wolf has the opportunity to protect parks, forests, and clean water and air by strengthening regulations on gas drilling. Draft gas drilling regulations released about a year ago fall far short of protections needed for the parks, which help make Pennsylvania a great place to live, work, and play.  

The state of New York has been under a fracking moratorium since 2008. That moratorium is set to expire in May of 2015. In June of 2014, the State Assembly passed a bill to extend the moratorium another three years, to allow time to better understand potential public health and environmental impacts. To take effect, the bill would have to be passed by the Senate and signed by Governor Cuomo. With a new legislature elected in November of 2014, citizens should contact their Assembly members and Sate Senators and urge them to protect parks from any negative impacts of fracking. 

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 Hill 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 Culture 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 SRR (within)
Vanderbilt Mansion NHS (near)
Women’s Rights NHP (near)

Contact Information

For additional information, contact Nick Lund, or 202.454.3319. 

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


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