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Shale natural gas development hampers consumer outdoor activities, study finds

Previously protected areas used for hiking and camping are now being threatened by gas development operations

Photo (c) Deagreez - Getty Images
While countless efforts are being made by consumers to reduce their carbon footprints, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of New Hampshire suggests that shale natural gas development are taking away areas consumers commonly enjoy for outdoor recreation.

According to the researchers, outdoor activities like hiking and camping have become severely impacted due to shale natural gas development (SGD) efforts. 

“What most people don’t realize is that a lot of the shale natural gas energy development is happening within or adjacent to public parks and protected areas,” said researcher Michael Ferguson. “So those who love playing in the great outdoors are often encountering anything from heavy duty truck traffic congestion to actual construction and drilling operations while recreating on public lands.” 

What this looks like

The researchers were inspired to start this research project after learning how the Trump administration had given the green light for SGD efforts on land that was previously protected from such projects. 

Areas that have been commonly used by consumers to hike or camp are instead being used for exploration of oil and natural gas, and these digs are impeding the ways that consumers can engage in outdoor activities. The researchers focused their study on recreationists in Pennsylvania, as the state is home to natural gas deposits, as well as countless outdoor options for residents. 

Perhaps the most important finding from this study was that consumers no longer had the freedom of traversing the outdoors. The researchers say many consumers had to switch up their plans or activities because areas they frequented were no longer protected from SGD. 

More specifically, nearly 24 percent of Pennsylvanians surveyed for the study reported a direct impact due to SGD, whether it was encountering SGD workers, well sites, or pipelines along their route, or experiencing heavier than usual truck traffic while out. 

Ultimately, around 14 percent of those surveyed were affected in ways that directly impacted their activities, some so much so that it prevented future trips to Pennsylvania for such excursions; others were forced to avoid certain areas because of SGD activity. 

The researchers point out that outdoor activities provide a huge influx of income to the U.S. government, and interfering with such activities will start to interfere with those profits. Moreover, they explained that SGD efforts can do more than just push recreationists off once-protected land, as these efforts can also do permanent damage to the environment. 

“The outdoor recreation industry has quietly positioned itself as a massive economic sector in the United States,” said Ferguson. “As SGD grows in the United States, the number of affected recreationists could increase and current numbers of those impacted could rise. It is important for lawmakers, natural resource managers, and industry representatives to recognize that outdoor recreation is an increasingly critical component of the economy and should have a seat at the table when looking at responsible SGD.” 

Staying safe

As detrimental as SGD can be to outdoor activities, recent incidents have also proven how dangerous the natural gas can be. Late last year, a pipeline in Pennsylvania’s Beaver County exploded, damaging homes and cars up to 500 feet away, and creating a landslide near the site of the landslide. 

Earlier this year, still feeling the effects of the explosion, Pennsylvania suspended the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, from getting new state permits, as the company was unable to properly stabilize the areas affected by the explosion. 

“There has been a failure by Energy Transfer and its subsidiaries to respect our laws and our communities,” Governor Tom Wolf said. “This is not how we strive to do business in Pennsylvania, and it will not be tolerated.”

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