Environmentalists critical of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania have focused primarily on water contamination. But a study out Monday looks at how drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale region impacts the state’s forests.
The Nature Conservancy report predicts about 60,000 new wells will tap the Marcellus Shale formation within the next 20 years. The report estimates 35,000 to 95,000 acres of forests would have to be cleared to make way for drilling.
Bill Kunze, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Nature Conservancy, said clear-cutting small patches of forest makes it easy for invasive species of plants to take over, and threatens vulnerable wildlife.
“One of the things we think really needs to be looked at is the nature of the permitting around all of this, which tends to be focused at a very point by point way,” said Kunze. “So, a company comes in and asks for a permit to do x at spot y and there’s a lot of x’s and a lot of y’s but nobody’s adding that up and looking at what the cumulative effect across the whole landscape is.”
Kunze said clearing forests this way is not regulated by federal statutes such as the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act. That leaves activists like him using their powers of persuasion to get the industry to adjust their plans.