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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

USGS Measuring Landscape Disturbance of
Gas Exploration in Greene, Tioga Counties

RESTON, Va. — Landscape change in Pennsylvania's Greene and Tioga 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.

"The widespread use of hydraulic fracturing to produce natural gas and coalbed methane in these counties has unlocked new sources of energy, but it is also modifying the landscape at an unprecedented rate compared with other forms of energy development," said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. "The value of this study is that it documents emerging issues with a rapidly expanding practice, so that all involved in decision making can make informed choices."

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 Greene County, 663 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 775 hectares of disturbance, including 241 kilometers (149 miles) of new roads and 126 kilometers (78 miles) of new pipelines. Disturbance in Greene County occurs mostly at the eastern side of the county with some activity at the north and south, and minor activity at the west of the county.

In Tioga County, 151 natural gas extraction sites resulted in more than 362 hectares of disturbance, including 46 kilometers (28 miles) of new roads and 78 kilometers (48 miles) of new pipelines. Disturbance in Tioga County is concentrated in the eastern half and through the central part of the county, almost in a linear fashion, in an east-west direction.

The study, "Landscape Consequences of Natural Gas Extraction in Greene and Tioga Counties, Pennsylvania, 2004 to 2010," Open File Report 2012-1220, is the second of a series planned relating to natural gas landscape disturbance and is available at http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/ofr20121220.

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