Monday, October 10, 2011

Archaeology and Gas Well Drilling: A Discussion

I thought I would write a small commentary on the interview I had with the Observer-Reporter from the last post. Hopefully this will clear a few things up about how archaeological sites are impacted by drilling for natural gas. This will also serve as a rebuttal to Robert McHale of Mark West Liberty Midstream & Resources. So let's get through this complicated mess that has become of archaeology in Pennsylvania.
Cropped portion of image from USGS report show...Image via Wikipedia
Extent of Marellus Shale Gas USGS

Let me add a disclaimer to start. I am NOT OPPOSED to gas well drilling! We need the energy her in the United States, and it's always better if we use our own resources than take it from someone else. What I am concerned with, is the lack of Phase I archaeological surveys for these Marcellus Shale gas extraction sites.

Normally when a company wants to build something, such as a cell phone tower or highway, where state of federal monies are being used, it trips Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.This is part of their permitting process. An archaeological survey must be done to look for sites that are unknown or possibly known about. We do this by using a map with the area that will be impacted, and dig test holes screening all of the material in an ordered grid like pattern. If we find a site, depending on its size or historical significance, the project can be moved away from it, or further archaeological testing must be done. I have worked surveying cell phone towers that are 100 feet by 100 feet, very small in comparison to the acres of disturbance a gas well can cause.

Unfortunately in Pennsylvania, the permits are funneled through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) who for some reason, sees only the size of the well head which is 1 meter by 1 meter in size. They ignore the acres upon acres that are destroyed by access roads, sediment ponds, and the preparation of the enormous well pads!

To read that Robert McHale would say that they “pick a clear spot” and go. A clear spot, in a farmers field, over looking a stream? A perfect spot for a Native American village or camp? Mr. McHale would like the readers to believe that they have access to all of the databases that the state has, and they probably do, but what about the sites not on the map? Section 106 is about finding the unrecorded sites, the sites that lay buried just beneath the soil. There are burials out there, children and infants. Their bones scattered by the bulldozer because these people think that they have the answers. I am constantly surprised by the lack of intervention by Native Americans in this situation that Pennsylvania has found itself in.

Archaeological sites and data cannot be put back into place. If the law is good enough for a company building a cell phone tower or coal mine, it should be good enough for a resource extraction company. It is estimated that 44,000 wells will be drilled in Pennsylvania alone, that 44,000 archaeological sites impacted if we don't find them and work with the companies to protect them.

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