How will Marcellus Shale development in the Susquehanna River basin impact efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay?
"We do not know," said Harry Campbell, Pennsylvania senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Campbell, who shared a two-person panel with Marel Raub, Pennsylvania director for the Chesapeake Bay Commission during a House Majority Policy Committee hearing Tuesday at Lycoming College, said that while the impact of shale development on bay cleanup goals is uncertain, there is reason for concern.
The state Department of Environmental Protection's decision in March 2009 to strip county Conservation Districts of their authority to review and approve sediment and erosion control and wetlands permits related to oil and gas operations, and the agency's expedited permitting process, which requires permit decisions to be made within 14 days, does not give citizens and concerned agencies enough time to review and comment on potential impacts, he said.
Last September, the agency challenged three such permits issued by the agency. While the challenges were pending, the DEP revoked all three permits, Campbell said.
"While we were pleased that the DEP revoked the permits, the expedited permit process remains in place and is still being used today to approve permits as quickly as possible," he said.
Campbell said he is concerned the loss of forestland, particularly in the state's Northern Tier, will impact the quality of water in the bay watershed.
Also of concern, he said, is the safe handling and disposal of gas-drilling wastewater. Chemicals in the wastewater may impair biological treatment systems put in place by municipal wastewater treatment plants for the purpose of reducing pollutants entering the bay watershed, he said.
Raub said sediment discharging into the watershed most likely will be the direct impact on attempts to meet bay-related pollution standards.
Raub said she is worried streams and rivers impaired by gas industry wastewater discharges will not be able to naturally process nitrogen and phosphorus - "pollutants of concern" as far as the bay is concerned.