Complexities Of Gas Development Impact On Wildlife Explained

From Potter County Today

brittinghamA Penn State professor this week suggested that a corps of volunteers be recruited to help monitor the impact of increased natural gas drilling on wildlife and its habitat. Margaret Brittingham (right), professor of wildlife resources, presented a well-attended webinar as part of a Penn State Extension series. Citing the formation of similar volunteer groups to monitor public waterways, Brittingham said citizens could record bird sightings and make other measurements to supplement research that’s already underway at Penn State and elsewhere. The information would be helpful in decision-making on land restoration, regulations covering earth disturbance activities, and public policy on state forest and game lands.

baltimoreorioleWildlife managers are worried about forest fragmentation, the advance of invasive plant species and the effect gas drilling is having on activities such as hunting, fishing, bird watching and wildlife viewing, according to Brittingham. There have been more than 2,350 wells drilled into the deep Marcellus formation under Pennsylvania in the last few years and that’s a small fraction of what’s coming. She’s heading a research project which is looking at the impact on wildlife habitat in general and forest songbirds in particular. “Pennsylvania contains internationally important breeding habitat for a number of neotropical migrant songbirds that — if degraded — would affect world populations,” Brittingham said. “And much of the extensive gas development is occurring in the state’s northern tier, where some of the densest forests in North America provide ecologically vital bird habitat.” It’s not just the thousands of acres that are being clear-cut of timber for drilling, she pointed out. There are forecasts of as many as 60,000 miles of gathering lines and pipelines being installed in Pennsylvania, as well as thousands of miles of roads being constructed to drill and service the gas wells. While the impacts on wildlife are hard to forecast, Brittingham said some conclusions can already be reached. Fragmentation is interrupting the natural dispersal of some species, providing breeding ground for invasive species, affecting wildlife travel corridors and changing hunting patterns.


forestdrilling2As an example of the complexities, she pointed out that the development could benefit deer populations in some ways — such as access to new plantations of forage preferred by deer — and damage  the populations in other ways (less cover for protection from predators/hunters, higher number of vehicle/deer collisions, and migration to other areas due to increased traffic and activity).  Brittingham said other studies are underway on the impact of noise, air emissions and light from well sites — compressor stations in particular — on birds and other species.  There are ways to minimize the industry’s impact, she added, including the use of a more meandering, rather than linear, patterns for land disturbances and careful selection of plant species used in restoration of land that has been cleared.


Next webinar in the Penn State Extension series will be held 1 pm on Sept. 15. Its focus will be on legal issues in shale-gas development. Previous webinars, publications and information on topics such as air pollution from gas development; water use and quality; zoning; gas-leasing considerations for landowners; implications for local communities; and gas pipelines and right-of-way issues are available on the Penn State Extension natural-gas website here.

Potter County Today is a timely information site courtesy of the Potter County Commissioners. Reprinted with Permission.

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