Hunters may be surprised by level of Marcellus Shale gas activities

University Park, Pa. -- Pennsylvania hunters venturing out this fall may be surprised by the level of disturbance and activity on public lands in the northcentral, northeastern and southwestern regions of the state, according to a wildlife expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Natural-gas exploration and development associated with the Marcellus Shale formation have increased exponentially over the past year.

"As a hunter, you may be shocked by the level of natural-gas drilling and production activity associated with Marcellus Shale on public lands in Pennsylvania," said Margaret Brittingham, professor of wildlife resources and extension wildlife specialist.

"As of Oct. 1, there were 4,510 active Marcellus permits. Compare this with Oct. 1, 2009, when there were 1,970 permits."

Accompanying the drilling activity, hunters will find new or modified roads in many areas and may encounter large volumes of truck traffic in areas where active drilling is occurring.

To accommodate hunters and reduce conflicts, Brittingham noted, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has vowed to limit heavy-truck traffic associated with Marcellus activities in many areas on the three days of bear season (Nov. 20, 22 and 23), the opening two days of the statewide firearms deer-hunting season (Nov. 29 and 30) and the two Saturdays of deer season (Dec. 4 and 11).

"Hunters also may come upon large open areas that are cleared or being cleared as well-pad sites," she said. "The well pad is considered to be a restricted area that is not open to the public. The dividing line between the public forest and the restricted area is the native vegetation line."

Brittingham recommends that hunters avoid these sites. "Individuals standing in the native vegetation are considered to be on public ground; those standing on the well pad are in restricted areas and fall under the rules and regulations of the company doing the drilling and completion activities," she said.

Brittingham pointed out that most active drilling locations have a security-guard shack that houses individuals who greet, identify and limit people accessing the pad. This is mainly a safety feature, she explained, because in the case of a major accident or event on the pad, the gas companies want to keep members of the public from being injured.

"Individuals hunting within the pad boundaries may be asked for their names and purpose for being there," she said. "And the well-pad locations where drilling and hydraulic-fracturing activities are occurring will be posted with Safety Zone signs 150 yards from the edge of the pad.

"No hunting will be allowed within the safety zone. Where these activities are taking place, there are workers temporarily living on the site 24 hours a day. Pads not subject to drilling or production activities will not be posted."

Hunters should check out their favorite hunting sites ahead of time as access may be restricted in areas surrounding active drilling operations, Brittingham advised. An updated list of what roads are open for hunting season on state forest land can be found at http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/deer/huntingaccess.aspx.

A number of websites have information on where drilling is occurring. To view a map of current Marcellus permits, see http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/topogeo/oilandgas/Marcellus_Permits_10_10.pdf.

For the most up-to-date and accurate information, contact the appropriate DCNR district forest office (http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/stateforests/index.aspx).

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Last Updated December 02, 2010