By Andrew Maykuth
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer
November 22, 2009
RENOVO, Pa. - For decades, natural-gas drilling has been part of the landscape in Sproul State Forest, a vast timberland in northern Pennsylvania pocked with hundreds of shallow wells and crossed by pipelines.
But Douglas J. D'Amore, the Sproul district forester, was unprepared for the massive size of the drilling operations that have moved into his forest in recent months to tap into the Marcellus Shale, the deep formation whose bountiful yields have triggered a frenzy that is transforming the way Pennsylvania's public lands are managed.
"Just the scale of this Marcellus thing is much bigger than anything I've ever seen," D'Amore said.
Anadarko Petroleum Corp. carved out four acres of red oak and maple forest, leveling a well pad about the size of three football fields to erect a 200-foot-tall drilling rig. The directional rigs are essentially mobile industrial operations: Each requires 80 trucks to transport, and it takes about a month to bore into the shale about 8,000 feet below.
"When you first see the size of the well pad - whoa!" said D'Amore.
Early-season bow hunters returning to their favorite spots this month were shocked to discover that Anadarko had already cleared about a dozen well pads in Sproul. Active rigs are posted as off-limits to hunting, and security staff ask anybody approaching the sites for identification.
"I'm sure I'll have a lot more complaints when deer-hunting season starts," after Thanksgiving, D'Amore said.
This is only the beginning.
Thus far, only three Marcellus wells have been completed on state forestland. But 660,000 acres of state forests are under lease, and state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources officials expect a rapid escalation in drilling.
"A year from now, there probably will be a hundred wells operating where there are only three now," said James R. Grace, DCNR's deputy secretary for parks and forestry.
Foresters, whose staffs were cut last month because of the state budget crisis, are girding for a management nightmare. The forestry bureau now monitors a few dozen drilling operations a year.
MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer
An Anadarko Petroleum Corp. rig drills for natural gas in Sproul State Forest.
"We're going to go from 30 wells drilled a year to 800 wells a year," Grace said. "It's a whole order of magnitude."
And remember, this is Rendell's answer to the budgetary revenue shortfall... instead of a severance tax! Hallelujah!