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Environmentalists' report urges conservation measures along with energy development

Pennsylvania is a rich source of energy alternatives like wind and natural gas. And a report from a prominent conservation group cautions that those who wish to take advantage of these resources do so in a way that minimizes harm to the forests, wildlife and waterways that are also abundant across the state.

"An intact and healthy natural habitat represents dollar signs, too, in terms of tourism and recreation," says Nels Johnson, deputy director of Pennsylvania's chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

His group completed the report in partnership with Audubon Pennsylvania and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. It predicts the probable impact of energy development throughout the state over the next two decades, focusing on wind turbines, gas and electric transmission lines, wood-based biomass and gas-drilling wells in the Marcellus Shale formation that underlies much of Pennsylvania.

Overall, it estimates up to 60,000 natural-gas wells statewide by 2030, and perhaps more than 3,000 wind turbines. The report also looked at how this development would impact species like the brook trout and black-throated blue warbler.

Johnson says the conservationists' intent isn't to stop energy development or say one source is better than another. Their hope is that government and business work conservation measures into their plans for using the energy.

For example, Johnson notes that one natural gas well pad takes up about three acres, with another six acres or so for pipes, roads and other uses. Putting as many wells as possible on each well pad reduces the amount of land dedicated to drilling. From a conservation standpoint it's best to leave as much contiguous wooded land as possible because many species best thrive in the interiors of a forest.

Source: Nels Johnson, The Nature Conservancy
Writer: Rebecca VanderMeulen
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