Appalachian Basin

Natural Gas Development Brings New Feeding Areas for Wildlife and Opportunities for Hunters

Last week the Zanesville Times Recorder  printed an article entitled “Habitat destruction should worry hunters,” with the author suggesting that shale exploration will have a negative impact on hunters.  While the title pretty much sums up the author’s viewpoint, it certainly doesn’t reflect the experience of sportsmen in states like Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Wyoming and North Dakota — where natural gas development and hunting exist in harmony today, and in fact always have.

As EID-Ohio’s resident sportsman, I understand the importance of hunting to Ohioans and the special connection hunters have with the land.  Just as a quick preface, I’ve been hunting for the past 23 years.  During that time, I have seen a lot of changes to the landscape — some of them natural, and others created as a result of timber development and  coal mining.  The one thing I have noticed, and about which I’ve often remarked, is that the “man-made” changes are only temporarily — and almost never have a material impact on wildlife.  In fact, a season after industry has reclaimed the land, you usually see even more wildlife in the area.  How can that be? It’s simple, actually. As industries reclaim the land and make their move out of the area, they plant new seedlings, drop new seeds and initiate the development of new sources of food and cover. As any hunter will tell you, that ends up being a great recipe for new, greater and healthier local wildlife.

Now, we are starting to see the early outlines of shale production in and for Ohio.  Although the Utica may be a new concept for some, hunters can always look to our neighbors in Pennsylvania for guidance on what comes next.  There, officials with the Pennsylvania Game Commission recently suggested that, with regard to natural gas wellpad development:

We’ve actually seen deer move back into the area and take advantage of some of the openings that have been created  (Ithaca Journal, 10/31/2011)

Just a few months ago, the Patriot News in central Pennsylvania published a story with several quotes that confirm what many of us have known all along : “Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling hasn’t hurt hunting, sportsmen say.”  In the article, the author met with Ed Fisher, who runs LEEK Hunting and Mountain Preserve, a preserve for wounded veterans.  What Mr. Fisher has seen is that “Drilling has had zero impact on our hunting.”  That is a very positive statement from a local hunter who knows his areas game lands better than most.

Mr. Fisher is not alone. EID’s Marcellus team recently hosted a guest blog post from Mike Ferko, a life-long sportsmen and retired District Engineer for Pennsylvania DEP.  In his post, “Natural Gas Development: A Benefit to Wildlife”, Mr. Ferko details many of the benefits which shale development brings to wildlife.

“Natural gas development will provide these edge areas for species such as white-tailed deer, fox, coyote, bobcats, birds and other wildlife.  The white-tailed deer is mostly a browsing animal and the young regeneration of woody tree species that will occur along the edges of these openings will provide nutrients necessary for their survival.”

These are benefits that would never be available to these animals without development.  It is always the young vegetation that brings out deer and other animals.  Whether it is the farmer’s corn field or a reclaimed site, animals are attracted to new growth.

Although I am primarily focusing on deer, let us not forget that other insects and rodents will be benefit from reclamation as well.  The new grasses provide cover for such rodents and insects like moles, field mice and grasshoppers.  With these species in the area, turkeys will also have  new areas for feeding.

As for concerns about development,  changes to the landscape associated with natural gas production are temporary.  In the Patriot-News article exceprted above, the author also includes a quote from Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser.  Mr. Feaser made some interesting points, some of which are included below:

The kind of forest clearing that accompanies shale drilling ultimately benefits many game and non-game species, Feaser said.

While the development can be an inconvenience to hunters now, the areas will ultimately go back to grass, shrubs and early forest.

You take the same acreage and put houses or shopping malls or gas stations on it, and that land is lost forever.

While I highlighted the many benefitsthat  shale development can bring to sportsmen in Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere, I also want to address a few assertions the author made in this article.  The claims put forward in that piece are no doubt genuinely made, but not based on the facts as they actually exist.  Among them:

“I did some research on the operations at the Natural Resources Defense Council website, and what I found is truly scary. Outdated regulations do not cover the new high-tech drillings, and some of the results were not pleasant. I read of exploding water wells and contaminated water supplies resulting in flammable water and human and animal illnesses. Imagine the impact on wildlife habitat.” (“Habitat destruction should worry hunters, 12/11/11)

Of course this statement completely ignores the fact that Ohio has some has some of the most up-to-date, and strongest, regulations in the nation.  In fact, less than a year ago Ohio passed Senate Bill 165 which the state government is now finalizing.  In the bill, ODNR worked diligently, line-by-line, combing through the Ohio Revised Code to bring all coinciding regulations up to date.  It was the largest overhaul of Ohio oil and gas since Ohio began regulating oil and gas. The upgrades were so well received  that a year after the bill’s passage an independent agency called  STRONGER (State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations) concluded:

The review team has concluded that the Ohio program is, overall, well-managed, professional and meeting its program objectives. (STRONGER report, 1/11)

Division of Mineral Resources Management is commended for its role in revising Ohio’s oil and gas laws.  (STRONGER report, 1/11)

In fact, Rick Simmers, Chief of the Oil and Gas Division of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources recently stated:

Ohio’s well construction rules that are currently up for review are more stringent than those in place for Class I underground well construction standards.

A pretty good quote that provides some needed perspective on the stringency of Ohio’s updated rules which passed the legislature with strong bi-partisan support.  We also might add the Class I regulations he refers to are federal regulations.  That’s right Ohio will have stronger regulations in place than what was developed by the federal government for constructing wells that hold hazardous wastes. A pretty good argument to add to many others that states are effectively regulating oil and gas development without federal assistance.

Wrapping up, I would like to provide another anecdotal example from my personal experience.  About three years ago, AEP decided to place a substation right behind my house.  My family and I were unsure of what this development was going to mean for the turkey and deer that would always feed right in our backyard.  We were especially concerned as AEP removed about 10 acres of forest behind the house to build the substation.  While we could have reacted harshly based on what we perceived to be the likely outcome we thought it more prudent to wait to gather additional information before taking any action.

So, what did impacts did we find the project had on the local deer and turkey population?  The scene in the picture below probably speaks for itself.


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