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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Let's talk about refracking

I've written frequently about the landscape industrialization that results from shale gas development, and the important studies that are underway to document change in Pennsylvania.

But words on a computer screen don't convey the reality. This photo gallery on shale gas development on Pennsylvania state forest land does a lot better job of showing what happens to forests when the drill rigs move in. Here's a sampling:

All photos courtesy

All of this development is occurring on state forest land, where - generally speaking - higher environmental protection standards are practiced compared to privately-owned lands. But even subject to these higher standards and under the best management, any way you slice it, natgas development is a heavy, invasive, and disruptive industrial process. Indeed, it turns forests blocks into industrial parks.  Impacts are inevitable,  and not nearly fully understood. It's clear, though, that these impacts are already very significant in these early days of Pennsylvania's shale gas era, and cumulatively troubling. 

Now, to be sure,  some of those disturbances will be reclaimed.  Eventually.

Which is part of the problem.  

How long will these awful wounds to forests stay open?  When will reclamation of well sites and right-of-way occur? Some partial reclamation has occurred in PA. But will those wounds be reopened as wells are refracked to maintain production?  That appears likely, even if nobody's talking about it.  

The US Energy Information Administration says that the average shale gas well will be refracked every five years. Other sources suggest it could happen every one to two years, or at least several times per well - and may require more water each time. 

Does refracking happen only where it's profitable - which appears to be just about everywhere

Refracking is apparently already occurring in PA, but I haven't been able to discern that from state data, because it apparently doesn't require a separate permit to refrack a well.

When will the wounds of shale gas development be healed? We can't answer that question until we talk about refracking. And that requires much more transparency - from both the industry and state government - as well as better regulation, and much more careful work by the shale gas industry. 

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