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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A natural gas drilling operation in the Fernow Experimental Forest in Tucker County killed dozens of trees, damaged roads and eroded the land, according to a new U.S. Forest Service scientific report.
The report provides one of the most detailed glimpses so far of the potential impacts from the boom in West Virginia's natural gas industry, and offers potential lessons for policymakers and regulators trying to grapple with the growth in drilling.
"It sort of opened our eyes to the issues," said Thomas M. Schuler, an agency forester and one of the report's authors. "This is an issue that is affecting West Virginia, Pennsylvania, parts of the northeast and other parts of the country."
The 28-page report, released last month, documents the development and impacts of a relatively small natural gas well within the experimental forest, which is part of the Monongahela National Forest.
Berry Energy began work on what was called the B-800 project in 2007. The project involved a drilling pad, associated roads and a pipeline, with the right-of-way construction alone resulting in the cutting of more than 700 trees.
The well itself involved using water and chemicals to "fracture" rocks deep underground and release natural gas. But the site was not drilling into the Marcellus Shale, and involves much less "fracking fluid" than a Marcellus well, officials said.
But the company's plan involved using hydrochloric acid as one of its drilling fluids, and a drilling accident and the land disposal of used fracking fluids damaged the forest.
In May 2008, drilling fluids were sprayed into the air because of "a loss of control of the drill bore." Scientists found "browning of foliage and a lack of ground vegetation" and the leaves fell off many trees in the area, the new report said. The effects were still evident several months later, but trees showed "no noticeable symptoms" by the summer of 2009, the report said.