16 July 2012
Pennsylvania is hardly a stranger to energy development. Since 1859, more than 325,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in the state, and many areas still bear the scars of strip-mining for coal. Now the latest energy boom in on. Thousands of feet below the surface are the Marcellus and Utica shale formations and their largely untapped reserves of natural gas.
Deep shale gas is tapped through the process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and since 2004 nearly 3,000 of these new wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania. That’s just a tiny fraction of the state’s conventional oil and gas wells. However, because shale gas is so deep and fracking involves handling massive amounts of water, shale gas development leaves a bigger footprint on the landscape than does conventional drilling.
The latest issue of CSA News explores the potential impact of fracking on Pennsylvania’s forests as well as how the most troubling effects might be avoided or mitigated. Researchers have found, for example, that the heaviest gas development is occurring in the Susquehanna River basin — the source of more than half the water flowing into the embattled Chesapeake Bay. And nearly 25% of shale gas wells have gone into Pennsylvania’s last remaining tracts of unbroken, “core” forest, which is among the last intact forest in the entire Northeast, as well.