Drilling Conflicts with Farmland Preservation

Agricultural officials in Pennsylvania are concerned over potential conflicts between energy companies and local farmers. Pennsylvania, like many agricultural states, has a state funded farmland preservation program, dedicated to preventing suburban development and the loss of valuable farmland. The program, created in 1989, currently protects about 450,000 acres of farmland.

The preservation program, initially created to combat development, currently allows for gas and oil extraction, a provision that is now causing headaches. In the late 80s, the gas and oil extraction that legislators had in mind were small, shallow gas pockets which could easily be extracted with a limited impact on surface land.

More recently, however, Pennsylvania energy companies have developed methods to extract oil and natural gas from Marcellus rock formations throughout Pennsylvania. This process, known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses pressurized liquids to fracture rock formations, releasing petroleum and natural gas for extraction.

Fracking has radically altered traditional energy extraction provisions in the farmland protection program. In terms of sheer size, the wells take up more crop land then previous energy extraction methods. One fracking well in Pennsylvania, for example, can take up about 25 acres during drilling, which can sometimes last for over a year.

In addition to size concerns, some farm officials are worried about potential damage done to soil and water as a result of the fracking process. Many of the chemicals used to break up rock formation are dangerous, and the exact toll that the process could take on agricultural production isn’t yet known.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer