Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gas drilling threatens archaeological sites!

Tower for drilling horizontally into the Marce...Image via Wikipedia An interview with Archaeology Dude (Marc Henshaw)
As taken from the Washington, Pennsylvania Observer-Reporter on 10/09/11:

As drilling expands, area archaeologists worry that historical sites will be undone

By Christie Campbell Staff writer

As land is leveled, access roads built and impoundments created for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling sites, some fear that significant archaeological sites could be lost.

But archaeologists are on staff or accessible to local gas drillers and processors, who say the professionals assist in determining optimum places to drill or lay pipeline in order to avoid historical areas.

Because Pennsylvania laws do not require archaeological surveys for sites under 10 acres, natural gas drilling pads, which take up about 4 or 5 acres, are exempt.

That concerns archaeologists like Marc Henshaw, president of the Mon-Yough Chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology in Brownsville. Natural gas extraction operations usually encompass multiple sites such as drilling pads, staging areas and water impoundments, and the acreage is not added together.

Henshaw, who also operates a private survey company, has undertaken archaeological studies prior to the construction of roads, shopping centers and cellular towers but has yet to receive a call from a gas extraction company.

That could be because archaeologists are employed by the industry. Mike Mackin, communications manager for Range Resources, said the company's archaeologist combs through state records and databases to determine if an area has significant archaeological importance before determining where to locate a drill site.

"Which would we rather do, stop a pipeline and notify the (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission) or do it on the front end, pick a clear spot, and go?" asked Robert McHale, manager of environmental regulatory affairs for MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Resources. The company has an archaeologist who reviews preliminary pipeline routes. Environmental inspectors can be found on job sites but, noting that pipelines often are going through agricultural lands that have been tilled over many times, McHale said finding something is "on the low end."

But Henshaw fears there may be thousands of archaeological and historical sites that have not been recorded with the PHMC. The chapter has been working on recording sites in Greene County and over a period of 50 years has identified 296 of them.

Speaking for the Marcellus Shale Coalition in Southpointe, Travis Windle said that if an artifact is found, the industry is required to notify the Bureau of Historic Preservation, which has 180 days to complete a site excavation.

Henshaw was part of a survey of a Monongahela People site discovered in 1997 when construction of the Strabane Square shopping center began. The village dated to 1400 A.D., and two burials were found at the site.

Archaeological teams from Indiana University of Pennsylvania studied the site, and developers even relocated two stores in order that the entire site could be left intact. Today, it lies buried under the center's parking lot, thus further preserving it, Henshaw said.

The chapter is not opposed to gas drilling, said Henshaw, but wants it done safely, lawfully and with care to minimize impacts to archaeological sites.

According to Howard Pollman, spokesman with the PHMC, the 10-acre rule is the result of a policy agreement between the commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection when much land across Pennsylvania was being developed in the 1990s.

"People think it's an exemption for Marcellus Shale, and it's not," he said. It does not apply to sites on the National Register of Historic Places or a project receiving federal funds.

Although the PHMC is not a regulatory body, it does make recommendations for property owners wishing to lease their land for gas drilling, advising them to require gas developers to protect historic resources. It also calls on drilling companies to check with local historical societies or a county planning office for maps of known historic sites or cemeteries.

Doug McLearen, PHMC's division chief of archaeology and protection, acknowledged that as the number of Marcellus Shale projects increase, there is a greater probability that a significant site could be impacted.

That possibility concerns history buffs like Carl Maurer, the archaeology society chapter's vice president, whose eyes light up when he talks about digs he's been on. If sites are destroyed, the knowledge and the motivation to learn more could be gone forever, he said.

"In 50 years, students may want access to something, and it won't be there," he said. "We don't even know what we're losing."

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. How far to the side do they dig when they do fracking? I know that they dig down, and then to the side, but how far do they really go? I can't imagine it would be that close to an archaeological site. And how hard would it be to just not go as far in that direction. There are probably plenty of oil in other locations in the same area.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.