Assessing potential environmental impacts of energy development across Appalachia

Main Point:

Energy Development could Affect Water Quality for 22 million People and 1.2 million acres of Forests.

Published in:


Study Further:

A new study examines the potential environmental impacts of shale gas and wind development across the entire Marcellus shale play, a large gas field in Central Appalachia that underlies portions of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. The study by Jeffrey Evans from The Nature Conservancy and colleagues publishes in PLOS ONE on February 19, 2014.

The Marcellus shale gas play is one of the most active shale gas developments in the world and falls within the Central Appalachian Forest—a national and global hotspot for natural diversity and a source of drinking water for more than 22 million people in several of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The study predicted and modelled future energy development scenarios for portions of six states in the Central Appalachians to identify where conflicts could occur between expected development and important natural resources.

The study found that impacts from energy development in the Central Appalachians could lead to a decrease in watershed condition and potentially affect the quality of surface water (including drinking water resources) for up to 22 million people. The study predicts up to 106,004 new gas wells and 10,798 new wind turbines, resulting in up to 1,490,732 acres (an area larger than the state of Delaware), of impervious surfaces due to development of roads, well pads and pipelines and upwards of 1,224,053 acres of affected forest. Unlike traditional gas development, horizontal drilling shale gas wells allow for more flexibility in where well pads and infrastructure can be placed. This flexibility provides a tremendous opportunity to help avoid or minimize the impacts to natural habitats (e.g. if well density achieves 8 wells per pad, forest impacts are reduced by 59%).

“Studies such as this provide the tools to evaluate areas where cumulative impacts may be the highest, enabling decision-makers to focus on how those impacts may be minimized,” said Jeffrey Evans, lead author of the manuscript and Senior Landscape Ecologist for The Nature Conservancy’s Development by Design global program.

Adapted by PLOS ONE from a press release by Geraldine Henrich-Koenis, The Nature Conservancy


Evans JS, Kiesecker JM (2014) Shale Gas, Wind and Water: Assessing the Potential Cumulative Impacts of Energy Development on Ecosystem Services within the Marcellus Play. PLoS ONE 9(2): e89210. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089210,

Financial Disclosure:

Funding was provided by The Robertson Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interest Statement:

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Jeffrey Evans, (970) 672-6766; Joe Kiesecker,  office – (970) 484-9598 ex. 7113, cell – (307) 349-2747

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