Dec 16 2010

Death By a Thousand Cuts

Published by at 7:30 am under Musings & News


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(Indulge me for a moment.  This blog contains a lot of facts and a couple of opinions.  The opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of WQED.)

For the past 100 years Pennsylvania has been great habitat for forest-nesting birds.  We’ve provided the nursery for 17% of the world’s scarlet tanagers and critical breeding grounds for wood thrushes and black-throated blue warblers. 

But this is changing.  Right now.

Pennsylvania is at the beginning of the Marcellus Shale gas boom which will last for 30 years.  Now there are less than 3,000 wells.  If the boom goes as planned there will be 30,000 to 60,000 more. 

Each well pad is a five acre industrial site connected by pipelines, compressor stations and roads.  This Google map shows what it already looks like near Jefferson in Greene County. 

From above you can see that the forest is fragmented by empty dirt squares and roads.  The scarlet tanagers that used to nest here are in Peru right now.  When they return they’ll find their nesting sites are gone or compromised.  There will be fewer nests and fewer scarlet tanagers born in Greene County next summer.  This is death by a thousand cuts.

Fragmentation isn’t new in Pennsylvania.  We’ve been doing it for farming, residential and commercial purposes for a very long time.  What’s new about this boom is that the fragmentation is industrial and is no longer around the forest edges or in farmland like Jefferson, PA.  The Marcellus boom is going to the very heart of our prime forest habitat because the State Legislature has ordered DCNR to lease the state forests for gas drilling.

What does a drilled forest look like?  Below is a satellite image of the forest near Snow Shoe in Centre County last summer.  Except for the large field at upper left, all those patches and lines are gas drilling sites.  (This image is zoomed out further than the first one.)

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Sadly this fragmentation will last longer than it needs to because Pennsylvania has no money to restore the habitat when the drillers are gone.  We could have had that money but our state leaders, especially our Governor-elect and the State Senate, oppose a Marcellus severance tax that would pay for habitat restoration and remediate a host of other problems caused by the gas boom.

What will happen to our forest birds?  It doesn’t look good, especially for black-throated blue warblers.  Read more here in Audubon Magazine and this extensive report by The Nature Conservancy on the effects of wind and gas energy development (the Marcellus summary is on page 30).

Will Pennsylvania change course?  Only if we work to make that change. 

As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

(satellite images from Google Maps of the land near Jefferson and Snow Shoe, Pennsylvania)

p.s. There are many Marcellus shale issues and many groups working on them.  See fractracker.org’s Resources page for a list of groups.  Check out Fractracker’s main page for information on Marcellus Shale drilling.

p.p.s.  Thanks for listening.

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Death By a Thousand Cuts”

  1. barbaraon 16 Dec 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Nice to have the information on the gas drilling in PA. I have been following this with concern not realizing the effect on the bird population. I hope you keep us informed — Thanks — barbara

  2. Gigion 17 Dec 2010 at 10:29 am

    Thanks for the infuriating info. Our township is in the midst of passing an ordinance allowing drilling here. It will definitely destroy a lot of habitat.

  3. Peteon 18 Dec 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Not having natural gas to heat your homes and generate your electricity may destroy your habitat this winter and cause the extinction of you! That will really infuriate you, I’ll bet. It is hypocritical to drive your car, heat your home, purchase plane tickets and live a modern life, and then criticize an industry you are so dependent on. The key is stewardship. Develop the resource with a plan to restore and preserve. Natural gas is a God’s sent to you and me. It is a very clean energy resource. We should be running our cars on it. It is wrong to mess up other parts of the world for oil and be high and mighty about our own backyard. We have the opportunity to develop the resource correctly – domestically, and pull away from the dependence on foreign lands. Kate St. John is no saint, she is a hypocrite whose rhetoric will hurt you and I and, yes the environment too. It takes money to apply good stewardship and management. The world, with its 6.5 billion people requires management and stewardship. That means we must all work together to utilize what our mother earth has given us and at the same time preserve through proper planning and management what we have disturbed. That is how I work and how we should all demand it is done. Comdemation of developing our resources is suicide.

  4. Peteon 18 Dec 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Actually, to address the bird population issue brought up by Barbra. I too am a birder. Most well sites, after they have been restored provide birds and other wildlife with a much needed transition zone between forested areas and meadow. I have personally seen greater diversity of wildlife in forested areas that have wells. There are all kinds of hawks, game birds such as turkey and grouse, and a wide variety of seed eating song birds in drilled woodlands, all because the wellsites provide much needed transitions zone. I have heard the argument of segmentation of woodlands, that is a lie. After the well is drilled, the site reclaimed, nature takes over. Open areas are soon opportunistically seeded by deer and birds. Greater biodiversity is realized which is healthy. Nature cannot be dennied. The key is that gas well locations are open, yet they are infrequently occuppied by people, so nature moves in. It is better for wildlife to have the brush left on “in mass” than to clean it up, yet most of the time the DEP requests that it be removed. Many companies are now enlisting the aid of biologists to advise on the construction of habitats to encourage birds, reptiles, amphibians and other game to re-populate. I have even heard of companies enlisting the aid of herpetologists to help populate species that have been gone for decades.

  5. Kate St. Johnon 19 Dec 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Pete, though you don’t seem to think so, I happen to agree with much of what you say. For instance:

    From Pete’s first message:
    >The key is stewardship. Develop the resource with a plan to restore and preserve.

    I agree. We need good stewardship. Page 29 of the Nature Conservancy study suggests a good stewardship practice that the State needs to implement:
    “Integration of conservation features into the planning and development of Marcellus gas well fields can significantly reduce impacts. For example, relocating projected wells to open areas or toward the edge of large forest patches in high probability gas development pixels in the southern Laurel Highlands reduces forest clearing by 40 percent and forest interior impacts by over a third.”

    It turns out that concentrating the activity in one big place instead of scattered sites saves the drillers money because all their equipment is close at hand. They learned this in Colorado when they started concentrating the well pads. I’m amazed they don’t do it here.

    From Pete’s first message:
    >It takes money to apply good stewardship and management.
    I agree and I know PA doesn’t have the money which is why I wrote:
    “Sadly this fragmentation will last longer than it needs to because Pennsylvania has no money to restore the habitat when the drillers are gone.”

    My opinion on where to get the money: We should get it from the drillers. They pay a severance tax in every other shale gas state but our state leaders don’t want to tax them:
    “We could have had that money but our state leaders, especially our Governor-elect and the State Senate, oppose a Marcellus severance tax that would pay for habitat restoration and remediate a host of other problems caused by the gas boom.”

    Pete’s first message also said:
    “It means we must all work together to utilize what our mother earth has given us and at the same time preserve through proper planning and management what we have disturbed. That is how I work and how we should all demand it is done.”

    I agree! Our State leaders need to hear that we want good stewardship practices and that Pennsylvania needs money to restore the habitat. That’s why I wrote:
    “Will Pennsylvania change course? Only if we work to make that change.”

    Regarding the effects of fragmentation which Pete discussed in his second message:
    Fragmentation is good for some species and bad for others. It is good for turkeys, crows and cowbirds. It is bad for black-throated blue warblers and other contiguous-forest species.

    As I said in the blog, humans fragment the landscape for many reasons – not just for Marcellus shale. The State Gamelands are purposely fragmented to increase habitat for wild turkeys and deer. In my travels around the state I can see that we have plenty of fragmented land and plenty of wild turkeys, crows and cowbirds (we even have them in the City of Pittsburgh).

    The reason for this blog post is that the State Forests are contiguous forest and they are owned by all of us in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania is poised to seriously fragment *our* forests and it will take a long time for them to become contiguous again (i.e. restored). But it doesn’t have to be like that. There are better management practices (Page 29 mentioned above). We can let our leaders know we want those good practices and we want them to take the time necessary to do the right thing (i.e. not be in a rush to drill).

    Will Pennsylvania change course? Only if we work to make that change.

  6. Carole Marneron 22 Dec 2010 at 9:50 pm

    For those of us who are opposed to hydro-fracking, what terrifies us most is that we can trust neither the energy industry nor our government to tell the truth as we have discovered through the wikileaks release of government cables. The industry’s main concern is to figure out how to sell gas to overcome the “misconceptions” of the American people. The government’s seems to be not to interfere with the industry. Neither is concerned with stewardship.

    Right now there is serious concern that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill due to a bad cement job has coated the bottom of the ocean and is interfering with the Gulf Stream and causing unusually frigid weather in Europe. Stewardship might have prevented it because it seems it was just like the bad cement job that caused the gas explosion in Azerbaijan in 2008 – which we would not have known about but for wikileaks of US government cables. From The Guardian, UK: 
“According to another cable, in January 2009 BP thought that a “bad cement job” was to blame for the gas leak in Azerbaijan. More recently [in 2010] BP’s former chief executive Tony Hayward also partly blamed a bad cement job by contractor Halliburton for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.” And the blowout in the Gulf led to the deaths of 11 workers and the biggest accidental offshore oil spill in history… http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/15/wikileaks-bp-azerbaijan-gulf-spill
Ration(al) Energy Use


    Comdemation of developing our resources is suicide? On the contrary. It might be too late now. But I think our biggest resource left is to use our heads and get off fossil fuel as fast as we can. Live with less, yes, but live.

  7. CitizenSaneon 22 Dec 2010 at 11:25 pm

    I have a question: Pete, what gas company do you work for, or are you simply an industry shill?

    First of all, how did we ever heat our homes, generate elctricity, and live a”modern life” before shale gas?

    You speak as though there are no other options. There are wind, solar, and geothermal alternatives that are cleaner, less intrusive, renewable, and safer than fossil fuels.

    You also mentioned that natural gas is a “very clean energy resource”. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is still a fossil fuel, and although it may burn cleaner than coal or oil, the extraction of natural gas is dirtier, more polluting, and emits more greenhouse gases than burning coal or oil. I submit to you the November 15, 2010 report by Dr. Robert Howarth of Cornell University “Assessment of the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations Obtained by High-Volume, Slick-Water Hydraulic Fracturing” http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/GHG%20emissions%20from%20Marcellus%20–%20November%202010.pdf

    “We have the opportunity to develop the resource correctly – domestically, and pull away from the dependence on foreign lands.”

    Energy independence? Are you serious? Countries like China, India, Norway, Sweden, Canada, and Japan have buying up the rights to the Marcellus from the beginning. The plan is for them to sell the gas, that will be stored in undeground facilities in the US, on the global market to the highest bidder… probably us.

    http://tribune-democrat.com/local/x1964519609/-There-is-international-interest

    So…
    We lease our land (our gas) to out-of-state companies, who in turn, store it in underground stroage facilities in the US, then sell it to foreign countries, who will then sell it on the global market to the highest bidder (probably the US), and we (the consumer) get to buy it back at a premium price.

    But wait, that’s not all we get for our stupidity. We get: reduced property values (gathering lines, transmission lines, gas wells), non-potable water, poor air quality (compressor stations), risks to public health (well blow-outs, pipeline blow-outs, toxic air, water, soil), and higher property taxes on properties that we can’t sell.

    To sum it up, we get to buy back, what was already ours in the first place, at an inflated price. How stupid is that?

    As far as the environment, wildlife, and plant life goes, it’s a threat. The gas industry doesn’t have any ‘biologists’, ‘scientists’, or ‘geologists’. I say that because the moment they’re hired by the industry, their job is to retrofit data into a very narrow definition to suit their PR mantra making them high priced PR reps with phd’s.

    “Former forester, Butch Davey, discusses the effect of natural gas drilling on PA forests”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjt4pJK4e50

    “Marcellus Shale Drilling [OnQ]”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCiG5T9Iee4

    And least we forget the ‘water’ and ‘waste’ issue.
    Either the water doesn’t migrate back into the aquifer, taking trillions of gallons permanently out of the water cycle, or… it eventually comes back contaminated. Which story are you buying? Neither are sustainable options. Sooner or later, the water will run out. In some parts of the world, we’re already seeing it.
    http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=53899

    And… what do we do with, or where do we store it since it’s RADIOACTIVE?
    http://www.rwma.com/Marcellus%20Shale%20Report%205-18-2010.pdf

    Now Pete, what gas company do you work for, or are you a landman?

    It’s hard to tell. The rhetoric is unbelievably staggering. Or just simply unbelievable.

    FYI: I do not work for an environmental group, I’m not an environmentalists, and yes, I did turn down the chance to lease my property for gas drilling. Some things, and some people, are just not for sale.

  8. Dissentaon 24 Dec 2010 at 4:37 am

    CitizenSane, very enlightening comment, thanks. The greenhouse footprint and Howarth’s work especially important — but it’s ALL important. There’s a mountain of compelling evidence that shale gas drilling is INsane (just about the only thing you didn’t mention is the frack trucks), yet most of our political leaders (president on down) are eating it up which means they must be enjoying secondary gain. They’re bought, many of them, or suckers for the false “economic benefits” PR of the gas industry. We’re in serious trouble.

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