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Fracking and Biodiversity: Unaddressed Issues in the New York Debate

Eastern states from New York to West Virginia are undergoing largescale development of natural gas resources from the Marcellus shale.

Recently it became economically feasible to exploit this source of gas via technology called high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (HVHHF, also called “fracking”). While New York has not yet permitted gas extraction by HVHHF, gas development using this technology has proceeded rapidly in Pennsylvania and West Virginia during the past few years.

The New York State government will soon make decisions about whether and where to permit HVHHF in New York. If New York decides to permit HVHHF, areas of southern New York west of the Hudson River and the Shawangunk Mountains would potentially be available for gas extraction from the Marcellus shale. As of 2009, New York had 6,628 active “shallow” gas wells in 18 counties that used technologies other than HVHHF.19 Shallow wells in the Marcellus region would potentially be available for conversion to HVHHF if that technology is permitted in New York.

The impacts of HVHHF on water supplies, human health, and safety have received much justifiable attention during the past two years, but scientific study of impacts on biological resources is just beginning.

Because of the magnitude of potential physical and chemical environmental impacts of HVHHF across the Marcellus region, and the potential threats to many uncommon and rare species and habitats, we perceived a critical need for analysis of impacts to biodiversity. Here we discuss potential individual and cumulative effects on habitats and species resulting from different aspects of HVHHF, and then draw attention
to species that may be the most vulnerable to these effects.

 

Authors: By Erik Kiviat and Karen Schneller-McDonald - 2011

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