Chesapeake Bay RAVE Dispatch 4 August 27, 2010 from Northern Pennsylvania
As part of the Chesapeake Bay RAVE, one of my goals was to create images that depict land disturbance in Pennsylvania. Covering this topic was important to connect the terrestrial environment with the issues of water quality in the watershed.
Bottom line: as the landscape changes, so does the flow of nutrients and sediments into the water, and that which enters the Susquehanna River could stand a chance of emptying into the bay.
As a focus point, I worked closely with some of the natural gas companies drilling within the Marcellus Shale to showcase how natural resource extracting is modifying the topography. In brief, the Marcellus Shale contains largely untapped natural gas reserves and companies have been flocking to this “play”, the industry term for a rich area of natural resources, for over two years now. A local source in Pennsylvania told me there were over 25 individual companies working the land. Some, like Chesapeake Energy, are taking precautionary measures to minimize disturbance they cause, others seem not to be so keen.
As an example, gas companies need to use huge amounts of water during the drilling operation. In a process called hydraulic fracturing, water is pumped through serpentine like pipes that navigate through the landscape to a 4-5 acre drill site. Once there the water is then pumped into the well bore (pipes leading to the shale below the ground) at high pressures forcing the underground rock formation to fracture resulting in a more porous substrate for the gas to travel through.
Did I mention they need an insane amount of water to do this! A well blowout in Pennsylvania on June 3, 2010 sent more than 35,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluids into the air and onto the surrounding landscape in a forested area.
As more and more permits for well sites are allocated, Pennsylvania counties like Bradford and Tioga, who seem to have the most drilling activity, will see more alterations to their countrysides.