Project Details


This proposal is funded under NSF's Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) activities, which aim to address the challenge of creating a sustainable world. This proposal is to develop a sustainable RCN to organize and generate knowledge from water chemistry and flow data collected in Pennsylvania in the area of extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus shale. We will focus on the research hypothesis: Sustainable development of the Marcellus Shale will be enabled by creation of a database of geochemistry and hydrology developed by watershed groups, government agencies, industry stakeholders, and universities working together to document natural variability and potential environmental impacts. The proposal focuses on Pennsylvania, the site of the largest new shale gas play in the United States. The network will be led by two research universities, Penn State and Pitt, and a private liberal arts college, Dickinson, in collaboration with the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Sciences, Inc. (CUAHSI). The specific goals of the collaboration will be to i) identify the groups in Pennsylvania that are collecting water quality and quantity data in the region of natural gas extraction from Marcellus shale; ii) create and grow a sustainable network among these groups by conducting three annual meetings to discuss and organize this data; iii) facilitate the network by working with CUAHSI to organize the water data into a database that can be used to assess background and impacts across the gas extraction region; iv) train two graduate students in the development and use of a database to determine possible impacts of shale gas extraction, v) facilitate community groups to organize, collect, and interpret water data; vi) evaluate hydrogeochemical data using GIS that incorporates population and economic data in order to evaluate the potential for public health risk factors. A key aspect of the project is the involvement of a rural sociologist, Kathryn Brasier, who is investigating social impacts of Marcellus Shale development. This endeavor will also be aided by two members of Dickinson?s ALLARM, the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, a nationally recognized technical and programmatic support center that has worked for 25 years to facilitate community organizations interested in watershed issues in PA. The RCN-SEES will work closely with a successful Research Experience for Teachers program that targets diverse high schools in Pittsburgh. The proposed effort will demonstrate that fundamental knowledge of natural and perturbed systems can be gleaned from sampling that includes citizen scientists. The focus will be Pennsylvania waters that may be impacted by exploitation of the Marcellus shale. At present there are over 3,200 wells drilled in the Marcellus but up to 100,000 could be drilled in the future. The rapid expansion of drilling has outpaced the state?s ability to document the pre-drilling surface water quality and will hamper its ability to maintain monitoring into the future ? largely because of the distributed and mobile nature of drilling and the fact that PA has more miles of stream per unit land area than any other state in the U.S. Many groups have started to monitor rivers and groundwaters in the Marcellus region. However, data collection is not coordinated and no one has collated data to document natural background levels or possible contaminants across broad regions. This RCN proposal will fund the establishment of such a database of flow and chemistry for PA using data collected from sources ranging from volunteers to agency-funded real-time data collection. To utilize this large range of data from various sources will require that we include key metadata and provide quality assurance/quality control. The RCN workshops and database will engage researchers, agencies, industry stakeholders, and community organizers to answer a challenging scientific question: can societally-relevant knowledge be generated from data collected by diverse groups of scientists and concerned citizens? We hypothesize that the answer is ?yes?.

Effective start/end date10/1/119/30/15


  • National Science Foundation: $750,000.00


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