Bradford County is one of the region’s hotspots for fracking activity. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP), the first fracking permit dates all the way back to 1995. However. large expansion of this industry did not begin until 2010. From the beginning of 2010 to the end of 2011, the PA DEP issued over 1,500 permits for unconventional natural gas wells. Permitting rates remained high through 2015 before dropping off. In total, the PA DEP has issued over 4,000 fracking permits, and there are currently over 500 active wells in Bradford county.
From our tracing efforts, we recorded roughly 7,000 acres (~11 square miles) of land cleared for gathering lines in Bradford County alone. To put this number into perspective, that is about half the entire acreage of Manhattan. This acreage total is just for the network of pipelines and does not include the area cleared for the wells as well. These gathering lines cut through a variety of landscapes. Some well pads and gathering lines are completely encased in forest, while others zig-zag through residential and agricultural areas.
The footprint of this industry is everywhere in Bradford county. While combing through thousands of acres of satellite imagery, I often wondered why this was needed. There had to be somebody holding this information already. Once I had nearly finished with Bradford County, I learned that FracTracker Alliance had digitized records presented to the public by the county. These were records of both where gathering lines were, and proposals of new pipelines to install.
Part of me was relieved. In my mind, the accounting of ubiquitous infrastructure that can affect communities should be the responsibility of the state or federal government—not a small organization. However, I quickly realized there was an issue.