Landscape change in Pennsylvania's Allegheny and Susquehanna 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 a U.S. Geological Survey report released today.
USGS researchers, using geospatial data and high resolution aerial imagery from 2004-2010, 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.
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.
"Large-scale landscape disturbance can have a significant impact on ecological resources and the services they provide. This study provides a quantitative look at the levels of disturbance, forest loss and other changes to land use and land cover," said Terry Slonecker, lead author of the research.
Data from this report 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.
The study 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. Disturbance in Allegheny County occurs mostly on the eastern side of the county with some minor activity in the northwestern corner of the county.
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. Disturbance in Susquehanna County is concentrated in the southwestern quadrant and dispersed sparsely throughout the remainder of the county.
The study, "Landscape Consequences of Natural Gas Extraction in Allegheny and Susquehanna, Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004 to 2010," Open File Report 2013-1025, is the third of a series planned relating to natural gas landscape disturbance and is available online.