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Landscape disturbance from unconventional and conventional oil and gas development in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania, USA

June 8, 2015

The spatial footprint of unconventional (hydraulic fracturing) and conventional oil and gas development in the Marcellus Shale region of the State of Pennsylvania was digitized from high-resolution, ortho-rectified, digital aerial photography, from 2004 to 2010. We used these data to measure the spatial extent of oil and gas development and to assess the exposure of the extant natural resources across the landscape of the watersheds in the study area. We found that either form of development: (1) occurred in ~50% of the 930 watersheds that defined the study area; (2) was closer to streams than the recommended safe distance in ~50% of the watersheds; (3) was in some places closer to impaired streams and state-defined wildland trout streams than the recommended safe distance; (4) was within 10 upstream kilometers of surface drinking water intakes in ~45% of the watersheds that had surface drinking water intakes; (5) occurred in ~10% of state-defined exceptional value watersheds; (6) occurred in ~30% of the watersheds with resident populations defined as disproportionately exposed to pollutants; (7) tended to occur at interior forest locations; and (8) had >100 residents within 3 km for ~30% of the unconventional oil and gas development sites. Further, we found that exposure to the potential effects of landscape disturbance attributable to conventional oil and gas development was more prevalent than its unconventional counterpart.