Wednesday, November 2, 2011

U.S. National Forests No Match for Drilling Boom

As part of SkyTruth's ongoing analysis of gas and oil drilling in Pennsylvania (see HotSpot Map blog and Abandoned Wells blog) we've begun exploring the effects of the Marcellus play on national and state forests.

This issue has been of concern to environmentalists and residents alike for several years. In 2009 the U.S. Forest Service was sued by conservation groups for allowing gas drilling to continue without the completion of environmental site assessments of potential drilling effects. The case was ruled in favor of such assessments, but drilling companies and private mineral owners with stakes in the Allegheny were quick to appeal. In September, 2011 the settlement requiring environmental site assessments before drilling can begin was overturned, thus opening up the national forest for new gas and oil drilling, including horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

The map below illustrates drilling in Allegheny National Forest from January 2005 - October 2011:
3,845 oil and gas wells drilled in Allegheny National Forest since 2005

Nearly 4,000 oil and gas wells were drilled in Allegheny National Forest since 2005.  Only 15 of those are Marcellus Shale wells, and all of them were drilled since 2009. As the concern about natural gas drilling in U.S. National Forests spreads, SkyTruth intends to continue monitoring the number of permits received by the PA DEP Bureau of Oil and Gas Management to see if this ruling will bring increased drilling activity in the area as expected. 

2 comments:

  1. Development of private holdings inside the forest cannot be denied and has been going on prior to and since the Allegheny was formed. This is a property rights issue, not an environmental issue.

    Yes, there will be drilling on the Allegheny.

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  2. Redmike - we're more concerned with drilling on national forest-owned land, not on private surface inholdings. Property rights go both ways. The rights of surface owners to access and enjoy their property are compromised in favor of mineral rights owners. When it comes to public lands like state and national forests, we taxpayers are the surface owners, and users of the forest - hunters, anglers, recreation seekers - are losing their rights in favor of industrial use of these public lands. Drillers are also insisting they be allowed to take water resources from forest land to use in the drilling and fracking processes (several million gallons per frack job; typically several fracks per horizontal well).

    As a society we have to strike a balance in the way we use and manage our resources and public lands. There is plenty of drilling going on in the Allegheny, but that doesn't mean we can't do a much better job minimizing the impacts of that drilling on all of the surface owners - you and me - who enjoy those lands.

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