Lillie Langlois, a Ph.D. candidate in wildlife and fisheries science at my alma mater, Penn State, is studying the impact of shale gas development on our state forests and wildlife, including migratory neotropical birds.
Forest covers more than 60 percent of Pennsylvania - nearly 17 million acres. A ton of wildlife depends on these vast non-fragmented forests for breeding, including migratory neotropical birds that travel from Central and South America to breed in Pennsylvania, such as the Indigo Bunting.
As of 2012, the state Deptartment of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued more than 8,000 shale gas permits across the state, with more than 6,000 wells having been drilled. The majority of wells being drilled in northern tier counties center on Tioga and Bradford counties, which are also home to some of the largest unbroken blocks of trees in Pennsylvania. Each well constitutes five acres or more of a stone pad with associated roads and pipelines that result in forest fragmentation, which has varying impacts on wildlife.
As private land becomes more intensely developed, our public lands - State Forests and Game Lands - become that much more important for Pennsylvania in order to maintain its wildlife heritage. Not only that, it is increasingly apparent that migratory birds play a critical role in both local and global economies as pollinators, health wardens, restorers, fertilizers and sport and tourist attractions.
Pennsylvania has no state equivalent of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that required the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to take a thorough and comprehensive look, in a public way, at the environmental consequences of opening up our public lands to gas development.
As with the chemical migration study, this is once again the type of research needed to inform public policy decisions about the impacts and risks of shale gas development in Pennsylvania.