Development of a database that will be able to track potential impacts of Marcellus Shale activity on water quality is the focus of a new $750,000 research collaboration led by Penn State researchers.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Marcellus Shale Research Network will consolidate and routinely update water data being collected by watershed groups, government agencies, industry stakeholders and universities as a searchable database. The project also will facilitate and train additional community groups in how to organize, collect and interpret water data.

Significant data collection is occurring through the Marcellus Shale region, but synthesis of that data into useful knowledge is needed," says Susan Brantley, principal investigator and director of Penn State's Earth and Environmental Systems Institute. “Our database will not only establish background concentrations, but enable assessment of impacts across the Marcellus Shale extraction region."

The project also will examine the interplay between scientists and community watershed groups – that is, community members without formal scientific training – in data collection and knowledge generation. Penn State researcher Kathy Brasier is leading the effort to study how citizen groups have been organizing and growing in the region of shale activity.

Other collaborators include researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Bucknell University, as well as Dickinson College, which has been training community groups to organize, collect and interpret water data through its Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring group. The Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Sciences Inc. will develop the database.

The rapid development of the Marcellus Shale has prompted interest in collecting and documenting pre-drilling surface water quality, and more than 700 volunteers are engaged in that activity. But county and state agencies also are tracking surface water data as are several colleges and universities. The Marcellus Shale Research Network not only will identify all entities collecting water data, but also will create a sustainable network among those groups. Coordination of these efforts could lead to more extensive sampling and enhance development of long-term data records, both of which will aid in tracking environmental monitoring. Given human impacts, the need for such networks is critical, Brantley says.

"This network will lay the groundwork for a monitoring approach that can track impacts of Marcellus Shale development across multiple ecological, social and economic attributes of the region -- and provide a model for other regions," Brantley adds.

Of particular interest for the network are constituents regulated by the state and often associated with Marcellus Shale development, including total dissolved solids, chlorides, barium and strontium, says David Yoxtheimer, extension associate with the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research and member of the research team. In addition to geochemical and hydrological data, the research network also will explore the role of community watershed organizations in building scientific understanding and knowledge for citizen scientists about the impacts of Marcellus Shale.