|Allegheny National Forest (Allegheny Defense Project)|
Problem is, industrialized gas drilling isn’t compatible with other forest uses. Just ask Bill Belitskus, president of the board for the Allegheny Defense Project. The most visible impact of drilling, he says, is the explosion of access roads and pipeline right-of-ways criss-crossing the forested hillsides.
Drilling relies on a massive road system to bring machinery, rig parts and water to the site, and a system of pipelines for getting gas to market. Each of those road cuts and right-of-ways slices the forest into smaller and smaller fragments.
Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest is home to 12,000 - 15,000 shallow gas wells, and companies are now applying for Marcellus permits. The larger pads and wider roads, built to accommodate heavier trucks, will only exacerbate the fragmentation, Belitskus said.
Belitskus tallied up the acreage used by drilling at one site: 5 acres for the pad, a 10-acre fresh-water impoundment, a 1 – 2 acre frack pit and land for the access roads adds up close to 20 acres. Given the industry’s projection of 30,000 new wells in PA by 2020, he worries the disruption on the landscape will be significant and long term.
“Right now they’re drilling anchor wells,” Belitskus said. This is when a company drills a single well on a unit and then packs up their gear and heads to another unit to drill a well.
The strategy, Belitskus explained, is to get a hole in the ground and then hold the leases “by production” until they can get back to complete their drilling. That might take ten years, and the companies don’t have to do any remediation until they finish drilling activities.
How does drilling impact other forest uses? Stormwater runoff from road and well pad construction adds sediments to trout streams. Lowered oxygen levels and increased pollutant levels can reduce fish populations and, in the case of sensitive species, kill them outright.
|from Allegheny Defense Project|
Road and pipeline right-of-ways provide corridors for invasive species that change the character of the forests and affect timber harvest, sugaring and mast production for wildlife. Birds and other species that require large areas of continuous forested land are put at risk.
And then there’s recreation. Shellie Northrup, an avid hiker and member of two trail associations, says hikers report coming across flaring wells, piles of tree trunks blocking trails, and well pads that obliterate paths. Drilling affect the aesthetics of an afternoon hike, and presents a safety hazard when sharing public lands used for recreation.