Watching water quality: part two ‘Sondes’ make continuous monitoring possible
Development of the Marcellus Shale in the Delaware River Basin is a key motivator for the monitoring, as specified in the proposal for the four units to be installed in spring 2012:
“The Delaware River Basin is at the intersection of the Marcellus Shale formation, the largest (65,000 square miles) and most actively developing natural gas field in the U.S., and the Delaware River, the longest reach of Special Protection Waters (197 miles) in the country. As this development moves rapidly into the basin (36% underlain by Marcellus Shale), it brings an industrial activity with a host of potential environmental consequences.
“Effects may include surface and groundwater contamination related to drilling and disposal of drilling fluids, air quality degradation, soil contamination, compaction, and increased erosion and sedimentation due to large-scale development and changes in land use, which may result in additional water quality impacts.”
The agencies are hoping for improved assessment of core water-quality parameters, a better understanding of existing water quality and ecosystem health, a greater ability to detect incidents that impair water quality and natural resources and an improved capacity to implement timely responses and management actions that will resolve issues or threats.
The multi-probe datasondes are sensitive enough to detect subtle changes on a frequency that will allow baseline conditions, and any deviations from them, to be documented throughout the year, according to the NPS.
“We are anticipating industrial resource development on a scale that this basin hasn’t seen before, with spacing units for well pads as small as every 80 acres,” the grant indicates. “Large scale, widespread changes in land use and land cover, as is expected with the construction of well pads, service roads, and pipeline infrastructure associated with natural gas development, can be expected to lead to an increase in impervious surfaces in the watershed, increased runoff, erosion and sedimentation.
“There is always the more immediate threat of spills and releases into the environment of produced water, fracking fluids and brines associated with this development, and their contamination of surface and groundwater, impacting water quality and natural resources.”
Ultimately, the project will provide the data for better definitions of existing water quality, better resolution of trends in water quality and more timely documentation of events that result in degraded water quality and habitat. This may, in turn, enable management actions that halt or influence the termination of harmful practices.