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Defining Science Needs for Oil and Gas Development

[photo:] Class leanring about impacts of oil and gas development on forested areas.The United States is at a crossroad in energy and natural resources conservation. Emerging technologies have given access to previously unimagined domestic energy reserves, such as those found in the deep Marcellus Shale formation through the mid-Atlantic region. Much of the development of this resource is occurring within forests already facing many stresses such as fragmentation, invasive insects, and atmospheric deposition. New research is needed to ensure that forests continue to provide key services such as clean air and clean water as new domestic energy resources are developed.

As a first step in addressing this need, the Forest Service established a partnership with Pennsylvania State University to convene scientists, managers and industry representatives for knowledge sharing and identification of science needs. This forum, held in April 2012 in State College, PA, consisted of two days of compelling presentations and thought provoking discussion on landscape modification, water, air, habitat, roads, timber supply, invasive species, noise, landscape restoration, management and monitoring strategies, and other topics focused on forests, including public, industrial and other private forests. The more than 30 conference speakers represented academia, state and federal government, industry, and environmental and conservation organizations. Meeting participants left the conference with a more comprehensive perspective on the management challenges and research needs ahead.


Early Forest Service investment in oil and gas research has anchored investment and engagement by other parties.

Forest Service project leaders involved in organizing the forum


Number of oil and gas-related studies currently underway:           
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Northern Research Station funding for oil and gas research in FY12:                       



The principal product of the partnership today is a summary of the conference discussion published in Environmental Practice (doi:10.10170S1466046612000300) in 2012. This report:

  • Identified the existing knowledge base about this rapidly evolving management challenge.
  • Clarified the major environmental, management, and social issues that emerged from this development.
  • Distilled a comprehensive picture of research already underway and, most significantly, the research that is still needed.


This partnership has been pivotal in shaping the direction of a new line of science for the Northern Research Station on the impacts of oil and gas development in forested environments.  Initial FS studies on monitoring and managing flowback water and well water impacts are now being supplemented with other studies to address the identified needs. 

This partnership has also connected the Northern Research Station with key national and regional stakeholders, bringing broader expertise to bear on the research program, effectively leveraging finite resources, and providing a ready conduit for sharing research results. This work will lead to more efficient monitoring and adaptive management of energy development. 

Lessons Learned

Addressing a natural resource management issue that affects a wide region and multiple resources can best be addressed by a wide array of partners with multiple authorities and expertise.  Convening such a partnership early effectively directs a research program into the most productive channels.

[photo:] Dr. James Grace, Penn State Goddard Chair, April  2012“Shale-gas development potentially poses the biggest permanent impact on Pennsylvania forests in the last 100 years; however there is opportunity to manage this important energy resource while carrying out our stewardship responsibility for forest resources.”
--Dr. James Grace, Penn State Goddard Chair, April 2012

Partner Organizations

Last Modified: July 31, 2019