Environmental Change & Impact Due to Marcellus Shale Well Pad Drilling: Lycoming & Washington Counties, Pennsylvania

Authors: Keith Moodhe*, Penn State
Topics: Environment, Energy
Keywords: land cover, oil and gas, Marcellus, surface disturbance
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 24
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Pennsylvania has experienced a resurgence in oil and gas exploration and production over the past two decades, mainly due to technical advances in completion and extraction methods (hydraulic fracturing). The vast majority of the 12,000+ unconventional wells target the Marcellus Shale, a primary petroleum source rock in the Appalachian Basin. Early drilling first utilized vertical wells, followed by single horizontal wells and now finally “pad-drilling,” where multiple wells and their lateral legs branch out from a common well pad. The advantages of this latest form of drilling include a reduction in operation cost as the rig and completion equipment require less transit and setup time. Additionally, surface disturbance can be minimized as the total footprint of the well areas are consolidated and less access roads and infrastructure are needed. This study focuses on wells in two counties with differing general land use: 1) Lycoming County, mostly forest and woodland and 2) Washington County, with more cultivated and developed land. Mapping the well locations and land use changes over several time intervals since horizontal drilling began, this analysis indicates that on a per well basis, less area is being impacted due to oil and gas activity. This investigation quantifies the change in land type and amount over time near well pads and identifies correlations among geographical factors for pad placement, such as slope and proximity to infrastructure. Objectively, this study provides insight concerning the intensity of environmental impact as a natural resource is developed.

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