Assessing Contamination of Stream Networks near Shale Gas Development Using a New Geospatial Tool

Amal Agarwal, Tao Wen, Alex Chen, Anna Yinqi Zhang, Xianzeng Niu, Xiang Zhan, Lingzhou Xue, Susan L. Brantley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Chemical spills in streams can impact ecosystem or human health. Typically, the public learns of spills from reports from industry, media, or government rather than monitoring data. For example, ∼1300 spills (76 ≥ 400 gallons or ∼1500 L) were reported from 2007 to 2014 by the regulator for natural gas wellpads in the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania (U.S.), a region of extensive drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Only one such incident of stream contamination in Pennsylvania has been documented with water quality data in peer-reviewed literature. This could indicate that spills (1) were small or contained on wellpads, (2) were diluted, biodegraded, or obscured by other contaminants, (3) were not detected because of sparse monitoring, or (4) were not detected because of the difficulties of inspecting data for complex stream networks. As a first step in addressing the last problem, we developed a geospatial-analysis tool, GeoNet, that analyzes stream networks to detect statistically significant changes between background and potentially impacted sites. GeoNet was used on data in the Water Quality Portal for the Pennsylvania Marcellus region. With the most stringent statistical tests, GeoNet detected 0.2% to 2% of the known contamination incidents (Na ± Cl) in streams. With denser sensor networks, tools like GeoNet could allow real-time detection of polluting events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8632-8639
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 21 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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