Early Trends in Landcover Change and Forest Fragmentation Due to Shale-Gas Development in Pennsylvania: A Potential Outcome for the Northcentral Appalachians
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- Drohan, P.J., Brittingham, M., Bishop, J. et al. Environmental Management (2012) 49: 1061. doi:10.1007/s00267-012-9841-6
Worldwide shale-gas development has the potential to cause substantial landscape disturbance. The northeastern U.S., specifically the Allegheny Plateau in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky, is experiencing rapid exploration. Using Pennsylvania as a proxy for regional development across the Plateau, we examine land cover change due to shale-gas exploration, with emphasis on forest fragmentation. Pennsylvania’s shale-gas development is greatest on private land, and is dominated by pads with 1–2 wells; less than 10 % of pads have five wells or more. Approximately 45–62 % of pads occur on agricultural land and 38–54 % in forest land (many in core forest on private land). Development of permits granted as of June 3, 2011, would convert at least 644–1072 ha of agricultural land and 536–894 ha of forest land. Agricultural land conversion suggests that drilling is somewhat competing with food production. Accounting for existing pads and development of all permits would result in at least 649 km of new road, which, along with pipelines, would fragment forest cover. The Susquehanna River basin (feeding the Chesapeake Bay), is most developed, with 885 pads (26 % in core forest); permit data suggests the basin will experience continued heavy development. The intensity of core forest disturbance, where many headwater streams occur, suggests that such streams should become a focus of aquatic monitoring. Given the intense development on private lands, we believe a regional strategy is needed to help guide infrastructure development, so that habitat loss, farmland conversion, and the risk to waterways are better managed.