April 18, 2014
Impacts of drilling in Pennsylvania's state forests, methane levels at drilling sites and the costs and benefits of natural gas development made headlines this week in Marcellus shale drilling news.
1. Pennsylvania DCNR releases a 265-page report on the impacts of natural gas drilling on state forests
According to Laura Legere, in an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a monitoring program started in 2010 looks at impacts of drilling operations on things like water, wildlife and recreation in state forests.
Legere reports some of the key findings were:
* Nearly 1,500 acres of forest had been converted for well pads and infrastructure through 2012—including some areas of once-contiguous forest that have been fragmented by new development—but the disturbance is less than the agency originally expected because facilities were purposefully built close to developed areas.
* There are fewer opportunities for remote recreational experiences in forests with gas development and more opportunities for "semi-primitive" experiences. More miles of snowmobile trails have been created but three designated state forest hiking trails have been affected by gas development.
2. EPA underestimates methane released at drilling sites
The Los Angeles Times reports that new research indicates methane levels at Marcellus shale drilling sites in Southwestern Pennsylvania were up to 1000 times higher than EPA originally estimated.
From Neela Banerjee's article:
Using a plane that was specially equipped to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the air, scientists found that drilling activities at seven well pads in the booming Marcellus shale formation emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that such drilling releases between 0.04 grams and 0.30 grams of methane per second.
Methane is especially good at trapping heat in the atmosphere, and contributing to global warming. According to Banerjee, the new report is the latest in the unfolding story of how EPA is "gravely underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations."
3. Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania counties report 'mixed bag' on hydrofracking effects
The Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative released four reports on how shale drilling development has benefitted and also negatively effected four communities where the industry had boomed over the last few.
Two counties in Pennsylvania were analyzed as part of the study: Tioga and Greene. According to the report, so far Greene County experienced a decrease in unemployment and a boost in county income, among other positive effects. However Greene County also experienced a housing shortage similar to Carroll County and increased traffic hazards.
According to the report, communication between drillers and local officials was limited and the local government had little power over choosing locations for drilling sites and regulating the industry.
The report says Tioga county also experienced some of the same benefits as Greene County, but that those positive aspects have "dwindled." The reports provide a cautionary tale to other parts of the country where the Marcellus shale industry is trying to make headway.