Understanding Effects of Oil and Natural Gas Development on Appalachian Forests
Rapidly increasing fuel prices have resulted in an economic climate that favors domestic energy development. This is especially true in the mid- and northern-Appalachian region where the Marcellus shale formation is found in the bedrock. This formation has been called a “super giant” gas reserve, and is estimated to contain 50 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Consequently, gas-well drilling and pipeline construction have increased significantly in the Appalachians during the past several years, and are expected to increase throughout the next several decades. However, the environmental effects of this development are poorly understood and little scientific literature on these subjects is available. There is a growing need for this information due to the sheer numbers of new wells and miles of pipelines constructed each year.
This issue has hit home for the Fernow Experimental Forest as a gas well, pipeline and associated infrastructure were established on the Fernow in 2009 to exploit privately held mineral rights.
This is a new area of research for us, and many of our studies involve evaluating the effectiveness of best management practices (BMPs) that are used during drilling activities and pipeline construction. BMPs are techniques and practices that are used to control the environmental effects of these operations. For example, we are measuring erosion losses from well pads and pipelines to determine if erosion control measures can adequately reduce erosion losses, or how they may be improved to keep soil on-site and protect water quality. We also are examining whether applying ground cover seeds at a higher rate is a cost-effective method for further reducing soil losses and improving the speed with which an area becomes fully vegetated.
We also are investigating how land application of fluids associated with drilling operations may affect vegetation, salamander populations, surface and ground water quality, and soil quality. We also are examining small mammal and amphibian populations on and near gas well sites on the Monongahela National Forest.
Although this area of research is in its infancy, even early results are expected to prove useful to the oil and gas industry, State regulators, and private, state, and federal land owners who have wells drilled and pipelines constructed on their property. Revisions to current BMPs and the development of new BMPs are anticipated as some of the most important early results that this research will yield. Longer-term outcomes include a greater understanding of how gas extraction activities influence forest sustainability at the landscape scale, such as fragmentation of forests, patterns of and restrictions to wildlife movement, and the spread of invasive, non-native plants.
Holz, Daniel J. 2009. Factors affecting erosion on a natural gas pipeline in the central Appalachians. M.S. Thesis, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL.
Holz, Dan; Edwards, Pamela; Williard, Karl; Schoonover, Jon. 2007. Factors affecting erosion on a gas pipeline in the central appalachians. In: Proceedings, American Water Resources Association 2007 Annual Conference. 2007 November 12-15; Albuquerque, NM. 1 p. Abstract.
- Pamela Edwards, USDA-Forest Service Northern Research Station – Research Hydrologist
- Mary Beth Adams, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station – Research Soil Scientist
- Mark Ford, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center - Research Wildlife Biologist
- John Edwards, West Virginia University, Division of Forestry and Natural Resources
- Monongahela National Forest
- Karl Williard, Southern Illinois University
- Allegheny National Forest
Last Modified: 10/21/2010