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Landscape consequences of natural gas extraction in Cameron, Clarion, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, McKean, Potter, and Warren Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004-2010

October 22, 2014

Increased demands for cleaner burning energy, coupled with the relatively recent technological advances in accessing hydrocarbon-rich geologic formations, have led to an intense effort to find and extract unconventional natural gas from various underground sources around the country. One of these sources, the Marcellus Shale, located in the Allegheny Plateau, is currently undergoing extensive drilling and production. The technology used to extract gas in the Marcellus Shale is known as hydraulic fracturing and has garnered much attention because of its use of large amounts of fresh water, its use of proprietary fluids for the hydraulic-fracturing process, its potential to release contaminants into the environment, and its potential effect on water resources. Nonetheless, development of natural gas extraction wells in the Marcellus Shale is only part of the overall natural gas story in this area of Pennsylvania. Conventional natural gas wells, which sometimes use the same technique for extraction, are commonly located in the same general area as the Marcellus Shale and are frequently developed in clusters across the landscape. The combined effects of these two natural gas extraction methods create potentially serious patterns of disturbance on the landscape. This document quantifies the landscape changes and consequences of natural gas extraction for Cameron, Clarion, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, McKean, Potter, and Warren Counties in Pennsylvania between 2004 and 2010. Patterns of landscape disturbance related to natural gas extraction activities were collected and digitized using National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) imagery for 2004, 2005/2006, 2008, and 2010. The disturbance patterns were then used to measure changes in land cover and land use using the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) of 2001. A series of landscape metrics is also used to quantify these changes and is included in this publication. In this region, natural gas and oil development disturbed approximately 5,255 hectares (ha) (conventional, 2,400 ha; Marcellus, 357 ha; and oil, 1,883 ha) of land of which 3,507 ha were forested land and 610 ha were agricultural land. Eighty percent of that total disturbance was from conventional natural gas and oil development.