Marcellus Shale activity has clearly taken hold in western Pennsylvania. In the region’s Allegheny County the number of properties leased for oil/gas exploration climbed by 322% between 2008 and 2009, and about 7% of the county’s land has been leased for drilling and extraction since 2003, according to University of Pittsburgh data.

Oil and gas leases reveal a rapidly expanding pursuit of drilling and exploration rights in the county, according to Sabina Deitrick, codirector of the university’s Center for Social and Urban Research urban analysis program. New oil and gas leases taken out by parcel increased steadily from 30 in 2003 to 273 in 2008. In 2009 the number of leases rocketed to 1,153, one and a half times more than the previous six years combined, she said. The number of leases filed by last May was 475, on pace with last year.

Researchers at the university have developed a map of activity, which can be accessed here:

A handful of companies dominate in terms of number of leases held and the amount of acreage claimed, researchers found. Dale Property Services/DPS Penn holds a lease on 1,654 parcels in the county, nearly half of all properties leased for oil and gas since 2003. The company, an affiliate of the Dale family companies of Dallas, is a leasing agent whose website cites a “strategic alliance” with Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp.. At the same time, Monroeville, PA-based Huntley and Huntley Inc. can claim the most land area under lease with 10,990 of the 35,393 acres leased in the county since 2003, according to University of Pittsburgh researchers.

The university’s Bob Gradeck, research project manager for the Pittsburgh Neighborhood and Community Information System, cautioned that municipalities should consider how to manage the infrastructure a drilling operation needs. Considerations include approximately five acres of land for a drill pad and refuse pond, emergency response management, road capacity to accommodate heavy trucks, water use and treatment and the effects of hydraulic fracturing.

“These operations are not just someone drilling a hole,” he said. “When the scale of this activity is considered, it becomes clear that at the local level there needs to be effective planning. There’s not a lot of history or experience with planning in many of the municipalities where the industry is operating, but these operations are here and people need to be ready.”

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