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Pa. Archaeologists Fret Over Drilling

Fri October 21, 2011 - Northeast Edition
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WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) Archaeologists in Pennsylvania say they’re worried that important pieces of history could be lost as the state’s booming natural gas industry builds roads, impoundments, pipelines and well sites.

Marc Henshaw, president of the Mon-Yough Chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, told the Observer-Reporter newspaper of Washingon, Pa., that he has yet to receive a call from a company that extracts natural gas.

Carl Maurer, the archaeology society chapter’s vice president, said the knowledge and motivation to learn more could be gone forever if sites are destroyed.

“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.”

However, industry officials say that they already employ archaeologists.

Mike Mackin, a spokesman of Range Resources Corp., one of the most active production companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation, said a company archaeologist checks state records and databases to see whether an area has significant archaeological importance before deciding where to drill.

Robert McHale, manager of environmental regulatory affairs of MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Resources LLC, said his company employs an archaeologist who reviews preliminary pipeline routes.

“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?” McHale said.

In any case, pipelines often are built through agricultural lands that have been tilled over many times, and the probability of finding an important site is low, he said.

A spokesman of the Marcellus Shale Coalition said the industry is required to notify the Bureau of Historic Preservation if an artifact is found. The bureau, which is part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, has 180 days to complete a site excavation.

Pennsylvania laws do not require archaeological surveys for sites that affect fewer than 10 acres. Natural gas well sites typically take up four or five acres.

Still, Henshaw said he fears that the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission doesn’t have records of many archaeological and historical sites.

Doug McLearen, the commission’s division chief of archaeology and protection, acknowledged that there is a greater probability that a significant site could be affected as the number of Marcellus Shale projects increases.

The commission advises property owners who want to lease their land for gas drilling to require gas developers to protect historic resources. It also asks drilling companies to check with historical societies or county planners for maps of known historic sites or cemeteries.

The Marcellus Shale formation is the nation’s largest-known natural gas reservoir and lies primarily beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio. Pennsylvania is the center of activity, with more than 3,000 wells drilled in the past three years and thousands more planned in the coming years.

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