Maryland’s Got Gas: Part 3. Marcellus Formation Meet the Chesapeake Bay Watershed


Let’s begin with a brief look at the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay is an important ecosystem. It is the largest estuary in the United States and is one of the largest in the World. The Bay today covers a surface area of 2500 square miles. That’s a little bigger than the state of Delaware” (slightly larger than the Palestinian Territories).

The health and quality of the Bay is in decline.

Since European colonists arrived in the early 1600′s, the biological conditions of the bay have changed far more than the geological setting.”

States neighboring the Bay got serious about its health and, in 1967, founded The Chesapeake Bay Foundation. After numerous environmental studies, the Save the Bay program was launched to raise awareness about the declining quality of the Bay. Important to note is that any

“references to “Save the Bay” are based on the assumption that the bay was healthy in 1600. The Chesapeake Watershed is “the land that drains into the Chesapeake Bay. [The watershed] covers 64,000 square miles (slightly more land area than Tunisia) and is a vast mosaic of cities, suburbs, farmlands, forests, and wetlands that extends across six states and the District of Columbia.

There is a very informative document written by a student, Andrew Schmitt: Chesapeake Bay Term Paper. He did a very nice job of putting many facts together that I think you will find very interesting.

The western boundary of the watershed is the Appalachian Mountain chain crests cutting across Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia. More specifically, it flows east from the Eastern Continental Divide. The western edge of the watershed topographically borders the eastern north-south boundary of the Marcellus Shale Formation. It is not a perfect alignment, but close enough for discussion.

The Eastern Continental Divide demarcates two watersheds of the Atlantic Ocean: the Gulf of Mexico watershed and the Atlantic Seaboard watershed.

in 2005, the National Geographic magazine offered the article: Why Can’t We Save the Bay? The authors write that so much has changed in their lifetime.

Population in the estuary’s watershed, which includes parts of six states and the District of Columbia, has doubled from 8 million to 16 million, compromising solitude as well as water quality.” The authors add that the “Chesapeake Bay is not alone. From the Gulf of Mexico to Europe’s Baltic and North Seas, from Hong Kong to Chile to Australia, dozens of coastal regions are showing similar declines.

In the article, William C. Baker, president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation asks a simple question.

If the richest, most powerful nation on Earth can’t clean up this mess on the very doorstep of the nation’s capital, what message do we send for the future of the planet?”

That is an important question.

And, at the heart of the problem is the reality that

it’s been easier to regulate watermen than pollution. For more than a decade, farming—even with the best controls—still “leaks” far too much pollution. The bay today has become the ecological equivalent of a morbidly obese person, force-fed nitrogen and phosphorus. Excessive amounts of these nutrients and sediments have depleted the water’s oxygen and killed about two-thirds of underwater grass beds vital to crabs, fish, and waterfowl.

Dimidia LLC was formed with a simple realization that “Dryland & Groundwater Degradation is Easier to prevent than to reverse.” Clean-up efforts in the Bay have also realized that “no one said cleaning up the bay would be easy.

We seem to be in agreement.

The Santa Barbara Oil Spill was responsible for Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day in 1970 to make the following statement:

I am convinced that all we need to do to bring an overwhelming insistence of the new generation that we stem the tide of environmental disaster is to present the facts clearly and dramatically.

So, it seems that only education is needed. So simple.

In 2001, a report was issued on the deteriorating conditions in the Black Sea.

The Black Sea is spiraling into decline as a result of chronic overfishing, high levels of pollution and the devastating impacts of alien species, an international team of scientists has warned… The findings have come from a regional team who are members of the Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA), an initiative led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)… The environment, wildlife and people linked with the Black Sea are also under threat from large discharges of raw sewage, damaging levels of coastal erosion and the suffocating impacts of dumping of sludge and mud dredged from ports, the GIWA scientists said…

“We have known for some time that the Black Sea, a water system of global importance, has been suffering, but these results bring into sharp focus just how damaged it is and the risks to the millions of people who depend upon it for food and livelihoods. The findings are a warning to the world that we cannot take the health of our water systems for granted.

The Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969 was considered “an industrial accident.” Yes, waivers had been granted by the US Geological Survey to previously prescribed Federal Standards for well casings. In addition, “the techniques, equipment and resources necessary to combat an oil spill of this magnitude did not exist at the time.” Ironically, the same arguments for waivers and necessary equipments to combat a large magnitude spill were also given for the Deepwater Horizon Spill 41 years later.

As I mentioned in the previous post, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge made some strong statements in support of “fracking” the Marcellus Formation.

The Natural Gas Industry is Committed to Getting ‘It Right’ “We work hard every single day to make sure we’re doing this in a way I would insist on had I been governor,” Ridge said. “We only get one chance to do it right. At the end of the day, we have an extraordinary opportunity to build more miles of rail lines, have more Pennsylvanians employed and invest in Pennsylvania.

When questioned about the BP spill in the Gulf, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) made the following statement.

I mean, accidents happen. You learn from them, and you try to make sure they don’t happen again.

Yes, “accidents” do happen – more often than we wish. And, yes, best efforts are always taken to ensure success. At least, consistent statements supporting “best efforts” make for good marketing.

In 1971, Barry Commoner wrote, in his book, The Closing Circle:

Perhaps one of the most meaningful ways to sense the impact of the environmental crisis is to confront the question which is always asked about Lake Erie: how can we restore it? I believe the only valid answer is that no one knows. For it should be clear that even if overnight all of the pollutants now pouring into Lake Erie were stopped, there would still remain the problem of the accumulated mass of pollutants in the lake bottom. To my knowledge, no one has proposed a means of solving that problem which is even remotely feasible. It is entirely likely, I believe, that practically speaking Lake Erie will never be returned to anything approximating the condition it was in, say, twenty-five to fifty years ago.

A lot of money has been spent promoting “Save the Bay” since its inception. The results are minimal.

And now it is time to look more closely at optimizing all of the potential benefits of Marcellus Shale.

You have heard the arguments.

The reason I want the Marcellus Formation to meet the Chesapeake Watershed is because I want Marcellus to hear the challenges that have hampered clean-up efforts; to understand where there has been resistance (cost benefits); to recognize the difficulties of tackling a declining ecosystem – THAT IS VISIBLE, to what might be needed for something buried deep below the ground with characteristics that cannot be clearly understood.

I close with a series of thoughts.

The Closing Circle.

…in the ecosphere every effect is also a cause. We have discovered what we should have known long before: that the ecosphere sustains people and everything that they do; that anything that fails to fit into the ecosphere is a threat to its finely balanced cycles; that wastes are not only unpleasant, not only toxic, but, more meaningfully, evidence that the ecosphere is being driven towards collapse. The environment makes up a huge, enormously complex living machine that forms a thin dynamic layer on the earth’s surface, and every human activity depends on the integrity and the proper functioning of this machine.

Four Laws of Ecology

  • Everything is Connected to Everything Else.
    There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.
  • Everything Must Go Somewhere.
    There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown.
  • Nature Knows Best.
    Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is likely to be detrimental to that system.
  • There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.
    Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.

Lyndon B. Johnson / 36th President of the United States
Letter Transmitting an Assessment of the Nation’s Water Resources

A nation that fails to plan intelligently for the development and protection of its precious waters will be condemned to wither because of its shortsightedness. The hard lessons of history are clear, written on the deserted sands and ruins of once proud civilizations.

Jose Ortega Y Gasset (1883-1955) /Meditations on Quixote

I am I plus my surroundings and if I do not preserve the latter, I do not preserve myself.

Baba Dioum, Senegalese ecologist / Speech 1968

In the end we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.

John Muir (1838-1914)

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, one finds it attached to the rest of the world.


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