Eastern Geographic Science Center
Description of Current Projects
Landscape Disturbance Effects of Oil and Gas Development in the Marcellus Shale Region of Pennsylvania
Principal Investigator: E. Terrence Slonecker, U.S. Geological Survey, Eastern Geographic Science Center
The Science Issue and Relevance
Relatively new deep well drilling technology, such as hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), has created an economic boom in the market for hydrocarbons. Previously untapped deposits of oil and natural gas can now be accessed in deep geologic formations that include the Marcellus and Utica Shale deposits in the eastern United States. While there are many environmental concerns associated with fracking, one of the often overlooked issues is the effect that these practices have on the landscape. Ecosystems and the services that they provide are largely affected by the spatial configuration of energy development features on the landscape. Fracking, and hydrocarbon development in general, results in surface disturbance that includes drill pads, roads and pipelines that alter landscape dynamics and habitat characteristics like forest edge and forest interior area.
Methodology for Addressing the Issue
To study this effect, features of landscape disturbance from unconventional activity related to hydrocarbon development were extracted from high resolution aerial photographs in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania for the period 2004-2010. Using geographic information system technology and ancillary data from state databases, disturbance features were mapped, analyzed and statistically summarized. This disturbance data is "burned" into land use/land cover data from the USGS National Land Cover Data base and used to compute a series of "landscape indictors" at different points in time.
Data and results from this research are summarized in a series of USGS reports and journal articles publicly available at:
https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/folder/551333cee4b02e76d75c0982. Plans include updating the disturbance data to 2013 for the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed. In 2016 a comparative study of selected counties on the Pennsylvania-New York border will be produced that evaluates the effects of different State hydrocarbon development policies.
Key Words: Hydraulic fracturing, "fracking", Marcellus Shale, landscape disturbance, landscape indicators, conventional and unconventional hydrocarbon development ecosystem services.
Terry Slonecker, PhD