Pennsylvania could become the site of an additional 60,000 Marcellus natural gas wells and 2,900 wind turbines by 2030 – developments that may cause significant environmental impacts – according to The Nature Conservancy.
Deputy Director Nels Johnson and a team of scientists used geographic mapping techniques to study the impacts of existing energy developments in Pennsylvania and determine where future projects will likely occur.
The Nature Conservancy works globally to protect ecologically important lands and waters, according to the organization’s website.
Johnson’s team has been studying environmental effects of existing developments for the past year, including impacts to forests, freshwater habitats, rare species and state recreational areas.
Aerial photographs show that 3,500 acres of forest have been cleared so far for Marcellus Shale gas development. Wind turbine development has resulted in the clearing of about 1,000 acres of forest land.
“If energy companies, regulators and the conservation community don’t take this information into account, some of the special places we’re working so hard to protect may not longer exist,” Johnson said in a Conservancy press release.
According to the report, between 34,000 and 82,000 acres of forest could be cleared by gas developments by 2030. An estimated 1,000 to 4,500 acres could be cleared for wind projects.
Wind turbine developments in Somerset County have stirred up mixed emotions among residents during the past several years.
Permits for a 30-turbine project at Shaffer Mountain have been in the works for more than three years. The highly controversial project would include parts of Shade and Ogle townships as well as Napier Township in Bedford County.
Many residents, including Jeff Payne of the Somerset County Conservancy, believe the turbines would be detrimental to the area’s natural habitat.
“Shaffer Mountain has been a real struggle for a lot of people,” Payne said. “It’s an important, biologically diverse area. Two of the highest exceptional value streams run through that area.”
Payne thinks that wind turbine developments would reduce the overall beauty and recreational use of the area. He also worries that a Shaffer Mountain wind turbine development will serve as a gateway for future projects.
“Once they get that one, who’s going to say where you can’t put them?” he said.
The study also looks at impacts to rare animal species slated for Marcellus gas development. Nearly 40 percent of Pennsylvania’s globally rare and threatened species can be found in these areas, according to the study.
Pennsylvania has about 1,800 Marcellus natural gas wells to date, according to the Conservancy. Gas development will occur in at least half of the state’s counties, with dense developments likely in 15 southwest, northcentral and northeastern counties. Somerset County is projected to be used for both wind and Marcellus Shale pad sites.
About 500 wind turbines are located in Pennsylvania, with an estimated 750 to 2,900 turbines slated to be built by 2030.
Payne said he thinks residents need to look at the bigger picture when considering future wind energy projects. Conserving Somerset County’s natural, scenic beauty and peaceful atmosphere are a primary concern of many residents, he said.
“If it’s a better place to live in general, it will benefit us all more,” Payne said.
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