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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

USGS issues another report on landscape impacts of PA natgas development

After documenting landscape changes resulting from natural gas development in Pennsylvania’s Bradford and Washington counties in 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey continues its great work, last week issuing another report measuring similar changes in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny and Susquehanna Counties

The study, "Landscape Consequences of Natural Gas Extraction in Allegheny and Susquehanna, Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004 to 2010," looks at landscape change resulting from construction of well pads, new roads and pipelines for natural gas and coalbed methane exploration, to help determine the potential consequences for ecosystems and wildlife.

Using highly accurate geospatial data and high resolution aerial imagery from 2004-2010, USGS researchers found that in Allegheny County, 647 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 531 hectares of disturbance, including 226 kilometers (140 miles) of new roads and 13 kilometers (8 miles) of new pipelines. 

In Susquehanna County, 294 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 705 hectares of disturbance, including 55 kilometers (34 miles) of new roads and 86 kilometers (53 miles) of new pipelines. 

What I wrote here about the Bradford and Washington county data also applies to Allegheny and Susquehanna counties: Even though the disturbance represents well less than one percent of the total land area of each county - and even though some of the disturbance will eventually be reclaimed when wells are completed; plus, cleared rights of way for pipelines and roads should shrink somewhat post-construction - these are very significant numbers

Plus, we are still in the early stages of shale gas exploration in Pennsylvania – as of this writing, 12,000 Marcellus gas wells have been  permitted in Pennsylvania, and 6,800 have been drilled, out of a potential of 200,000 or more wells over the next several decades.  The cumulative impacts of this development are - and will be - daunting.


  1. What is funny, I have been looking at this since late 2008. Mostly to deal with the requirements of the Chesapeake Bay for total Nitrogen, total Phosphorous and total dissolved solids. The two reports give a good snapshot of the initial development, but how many well pads will be built each year per county or more importantly each water shed? How will this affect the two year testing for compliance for the Total Daily Maximum Load for the Bay. As a borough official and sewer authority Vice chair I have to look at how these results could affect MS4 (stormwater) and sewer discharge permits in the future. The one letter that was dated 29 DEC 2009 is the one that scares me and can be found in the report for Executive order 13508.

  2. Thanks for reading.

    You ask the right questions. I do not believe that anyone has the answers. The only way is to track permits/wells through the state DEP website and overlay them on county/watershed maps. This is something that smart counties, municipalities, and authorities will do.