This aerial view, from northwest Pennsylvania, shows the level of disturbance that natural gas activities can have on forests and other natural resources. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is documenting landscape changes resulting from construction of well pads, new roads and pipelines for natural gas in Pennsylvania's Bradford and Washington counties. The information will be used to help determine the potential consequences for ecosystems and wildlife.
"The widespread use of hydraulic fracturing to produce natural gas and coalbed methane in these counties has unlocked new sources of energy, but it is also modifying the landscape at an unprecedented rate compared with other forms of energy development," USGS Director Marcia McNutt told the press earlier today.
Terry Slonecker, lead author of the research said that large-scale landscape disturbance can have a significant impact on ecological resources and the services they provide. This study provides a quantitative look at the levels of disturbance, forest loss and other changes to land use and land cover. Data will help assess the impacts of drilling disturbances on wildlife, water quality, invasive species and socioeconomic impacts, among other investigations.
Just how much land is affected? In Bradford County 642 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 3700 acres of disturbance. That includes 45 miles of new roads and 110 miles of new pipelines. Farther south, in Washington County, 949 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 4445 acres of disturbed land, including 172 miles of new roads and 134 miles of new pipelines.
You can read the study, "Landscape Consequences of Natural Gas Extraction in Bradford and Washington Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004 to 2010” at http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2012/1154/