There are more than 8,000 Marcellus Shale natural gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania, with 430 on public lands. Now the public can see exactly where drills are on state lands, thanks to environmental interest group PennFuture, which collaborated with digital media artists from the FracTracker Alliance to create an interactive map that shows the overlap between public lands and gas wellheads.
“Gas development on public lands, especially lands managed by the [Department of Conservation and Natural Resources], has been a big deal in Pennsylvania over the last five or six years,” said Mark Szybist from PennFuture. “The public has been very interested in understanding where Pennsylvania’s public lands are, where the gas can be developed, and what the impacts have been. We created this map to show those things in a better way than is currently available.”
The map uses orange dots to indicate wellheads and layers of color to show state forests, parks, gamelands, conservation fund lands, and even watersheds.
Horizontal wellheads, the kind used for Marcellus Shale drilling, are installed on pads approximately 3 acres large that look like gravel parking lots, according to a surface rights owners organization. One thing the map does not show is that multiple wells are often drilled from the same pad, reducing impact on the environment.
“But I think this map, if anything, understates the impact of the development,” Szybist said. “Because it doesn’t show pipeline rights of way. It doesn’t show compressor stations. It doesn’t show a lot of the infrastructure that really takes up a lot of space, really fragments the forest, and really causes a lot of ecological impact.”
Before the boom in horizontal Marcellus Shale drilling, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) leased approximately 153,268 acres of state forest land for mineral and gas extraction, according to FracTracker. Between 2008 and 2010, then Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell nearly doubled that number by leasing an additional 102,679 acres of public lands for hydraulic fracturing, or “hydro-fracking” wells. Following this expansion, Rendell placed a ban on future leases. In 2014, then Governor Tom Corbett revoked Rendell’s moratorium.
According to a DCNR report, shale-gas specific leases have generated $413 million for the state since 2008. Governor Wolf reintroduced a ban on future leasing in January, quashing attempts by the legislature to raise an additional $95 million through leasing for this year’s budget.