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Publication Date

2013

Abstract

Shale gas development in the United States is destined to bring about major long-term changes to the rural landscape. While popular media regularly reports on disputes over the role of hydraulic fracturing, “fracking”, on domestic water supplies, we believe that the more significant impacts on landscapes and communities lie in the less noted but nevertheless extensive footprint of land use changes that accompany this massive economic development. Four land use conversion topics faced by communities in north-central Pennsylvania were examined in order to scope out fruitful directions for more comprehensive study. First we projected, based on the locations of existing road and pipeline infrastructure, the areal land use change that would result from access roads and pipelines to support projections of gas development developed by the Nature Conservancy. Next we investigated the watershed-scale impacts of those changes in land cover and using TR-55 estimated the likely downstream flooding at the mouth of a significant tributary of the Susquehanna River. Recognizing the importance of the tourism industry in Pennsylvania we then developed a regression model of visual quality for the region, based on land use and scenic attributes, and estimated the impact on visual quality of the same projected land use changes. Finally we examined the potential of this same landscape as a source of renewable energy and then the implications of reorganizing gas development to optimize land use change toward a sustainable energy future. The results indicate that impacts on timber and habitat resources are substantial as a result of the fragmentation resulting from development. Further, the potential flood effects are significant and can only be partly moderated by the application of best management practices for land restoration. The impacts on visual quality are dispersed and thus may result in gradual erosion of scenic benefits and, regrettably, go unnoticed. The potential for energy development is high but the opportunity costs of planning for future development probably far outweigh the net present value of the future benefits.

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