The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) urged President Obama on Monday to authorize a comprehensive study of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) in the Marcellus Shale of six states and its potential effects on the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

In a letter to Obama, the CBF asked the president to direct the Council on Environmental Quality to conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) over the risks and cumulative impacts of hydrofracking in the Marcellus, and to make any appropriate decisions on new regulations.

"Natural gas extraction in the Chesapeake Bay states threatens to change the entire landscape of the region," CBF president William Baker said. "It is because of the environmental breadth of the unknown risks from drilling, as well as the interjurisdictional nature of the drilling across the Bay watershed states, that the federal government must exercise its authority and its responsibility."

CBF spokesman John Surrick told NGI's Shale Daily that the environmental organization filed a legal petition to have the PEIS performed under the auspices of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

"It's a legal request for the federal government agencies that have oversight responsibilities on Marcellus Shale to do a comprehensive analysis," Surrick said Monday, adding that CBF also sent a petition to Obama with more than 120 signatures, including those of business and political leaders. "We sent the petition to demonstrate that there is a broad-based concern out there."

CBF attorney Amy McDonnell also cited NEPA, saying the law made it clear "that the federal government is required to undertake a comprehensive study if activities like Marcellus drilling are likely to affect the environment through the release of hazardous substances, result in significant cumulative adverse impacts on local air quality, or significantly affect important resources including wetlands, aquifer recharge zones, or fish or wildlife habitat."

The CBF took aim at natural gas drilling in the Marcellus earlier this year with its "2010 State of the Bay" report (see Shale Daily, Jan. 3). At that time the organization cited drilling as a potential threat to the 64,000-square-mile watershed it seeks to protect, but made no formal calls for action.

Efforts are already afoot in several of the six states that comprise the Chesapeake Bay watershed -- Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia -- to place restrictions on hydrofracking while environmental studies are performed by state agencies.

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill on March 23 that would freeze the permitting of Marcellus drilling until 2013 to give state agencies time to review the results of several hydrofracking studies, including one by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Although the measure has yet to pass the state Senate, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) reportedly supports a proposed moratorium (see Shale Daily, March 25; Feb. 24).

"From our perspective, if Maryland did a comprehensive analysis of Maryland, that would be one thing," Surrick said. "But our concern is over a broader, multi-state impact. There are some impacts, like air pollution, that are not going to be necessarily identifiable to just one state."

An official with New York's Department of Environmental Conservation told NGI's Shale Daily last week that a supplemental generic environmental impact statement on hydrofracking may not be completed until the summer, effectively continuing a de facto moratorium on Marcellus drilling in that state (see Shale Daily, April 1).

About 20 members of the West Virginia House of Delegates reportedly favor a moratorium, but the legislature adjourned sine die on March 18, and industry officials question whether political support for a full-blown moratorium exists (see Shale Daily, March 21).