Kate Cleary: Stakeholder Interview

RoxannSteelman is a master’s student at Lehigh University in the Environmental Policy Design program. Through her extensive work and research, she has become well versed on the impacts of fracking on the environment. Her master’s research is on the effects of Marcellus Shale natural gas development on hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities throughout Pennsylvania. Her views are anti-fracking, due to the detrimental effects on many aspects of the environment and the lack of research on the subject.

Q: What is the most serious environmental impact caused by fracking that you have come across? Why should we be concerned about this?

A: In my opinion all of the environmental impacts are serious; it’s hard to just pick one. There is the potential for so many different species to be negatively affected. Just losing one species could cause rippling effects through the food chain. Some examples: amphibians are already in decline around the world, water pollution caused by fracking fluids could spiral their decline in PA even faster; ruffed grouse are considered specialist game birds and cannot quickly adapt to habitat changes; forest fragmentation changes the light, temperature, and humidity levels around forest edge causing interior forest species such as migratory songbirds and vegetation to be negatively affected.

Q: Do you think we should be more concerned about impacts on land and biodiversity or impacts on air quality?

A: We need to be very concerned with both of these. If I had to pick one I would say land and biodiversity only because impacts to them may not be repairable once they are affected. Air quality can improve once the polluting source is removed. Biodiversity – once a species is wiped out it is gone!

Q: Have there been any proven impacts on specific animal species associated with fracking activities? Are we seeing some species become threatened or even on the verge of extinction?

A: Not in Pennsylvania, but in places like Wyoming. Mule deer are having their winter feeding grounds degraded causing them to bunch up and feed on marginal grounds. This causes malnutrition, disease transfer, and lower survival rates. I have not come across any specific species becoming threatened or close to extinction.

Q: What aspect of air pollution related to fracking concerns you the most? Why?

A: The toxic plumes that can be associated with well blowouts or flaring. Plumes can travel through the air for miles and particulate matter settles out as it go. This could lead to other areas not currently being drilled to become polluted.

Q: Are ecosystem services threatened by fracking activities? For example, wetlands provide wonderful services by taking toxins out of the environment. Could this be threatened if fracking occurred near a wetland?

A: Absolutely! The recommendation for the gas companies is to have a setback of 300 feet from any wetland. In my opinion that is still too close. Wetlands serve as opportune breeding grounds for many species and insects, stopovers for migratory birds and water fowl, as well as what you mentioned above.

Q: What solutions would you suggest to the environmental problems posed by fracking? (i.e. ban fracking, impose more strict regulations, etc.)

A: I would suggest a moratorium on fracking to become effective immediately. According to the PA Chapter of The Wildlife Society, the “best practices” that the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has recommended to the gas companies have not been researched to determine if they are even effective environmental protection measures.