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Anatomy of a Gas Well: What Happened When a Well Was Drilled in a National Forest

February 6, 2011

A new report by the U.S. Forest Service titled ‘Effects of development of a natural gas well and associated pipeline on the natural and scientific resources of the Fernow Experimental Forest‘ offers one of the most detailed accounts to date  of how natural gas drilling can affect a forest.  The report offers one of the first published studies to observe the entire course of drilling and the prep of a well for production.  It hints at the larger picture as drilling has expanded across federal lands in the eastern US.

From USDA Fernow Experimental Forest pipeline report: Foliar injury of trees damaged by aerial release of drilling fluids on May 29, 2008, from the B800 well. Pit containing drilling fluids is shown in the foreground. Photo taken June 11, 2008. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

ProPublica’s Nicholas Kusnetz explains that the report did not monitor some of the forest’s most fragile ecosystems (caves, wildlife, ground water) but that it does note that the well did fell or kill about 1,000 trees, damage roads, and erode the soil on this 4,700 acre sliver of forest in West Virginia.  It is important to note that the well in this study was vertically fracked and not horizontally fracked like those in the Marcellus.  The use of fracking fluids was in much less quantity than needed for the jobs being done currently in Pennsylvania.  The damage done is still scarring and possibly irreversible.

This report is of special importance to Pennsylvania, as Forest Lands in the Allegheny already are host to the leasing and drilling of thousands of wells.

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