Landscape change in Pennsylvania’s Sullivan, Wyoming, Armstrong and Indiana counties resulting from construction of well pads, new roads and pipelines for natural gas and coalbed methane exploration is being documented to help determine the potential consequences for ecosystems and wildlife, according to two U.S. Geological Survey reports released yesterday.
Using geospatial data and high resolution aerial imagery from 2004-2010, USGS researchers documented spatially explicit patterns of disturbance, or land use, related to natural gas resource development, such as hydraulic fracturing, particularly disturbance patterns related to well pads, roads and pipeline construction.
Researchers found that in Sullivan County, 8 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 24 hectares of disturbance, including 2.4 kilometers (1.49 miles) of new roads and no new pipelines. In Sullivan County, disturbance is sparsely distributed along the northern edge of the county. Most of this disturbance is Marcellus related.
In Wyoming County, 22 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 59 hectares of disturbance, including 4.5 kilometers (2.79 miles) of new roads and 2.2 kilometers (1.36 miles) of new pipelines. In Wyoming County, disturbance is dispersed in the northwest quadrant of the county and is related to Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction.
The study found that in Armstrong County, 1,912 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 1376 hectares of disturbance, including 515.6 kilometers (320.37 miles) of new roads and more than 63.3 kilometers (39.33 miles) of new pipelines.
In Indiana County, 1,875 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 1,493 hectares of disturbance, including more than 572.1 kilometers (355.48 miles) of new roads and 71.3 kilometers (44.30 miles) of new pipelines.
Spatially explicit data on the level of landscape disturbance — which is geographic information systems data, mapped to a high degree of spatial accuracy — is critically important to the long-term study of the potential impacts of natural gas development on human and ecological health.
Through programs such as the National Land Cover Database, and Land Cover Trends, USGS has a long record of studying the consequences of land-use and land-cover changes. The current level of natural gas development in much of the country, and its effects on the landscape, is an important contemporary land-use/land-cover issue.
“These studies are part of the larger USGS evaluation of disturbance due to natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. They show the level of activity in these four counties and will help create a total picture of the level of landscape disturbance in the region in 2010,” said Terry Slonecker, project lead.
With the release of information on the four counties today, the USGS has completed analysis of landscape disturbance in 18 Pennsylvania counties. Results of studies on 17 more counties in the state will be released in the coming months.
Data from these reports will be used to assess the effects of disturbance and land-cover change on wildlife, water quality, invasive species and socioeconomic impacts, among other investigations.