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Pennsylvania

Q & A with Nels Johnson, Energy Analysis Lead Scientist

Led by Nels Johnson, Deputy State Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania Chapter, a team of scientists spent nearly a year analyzing data from myriad public sources to model the location and intensity of likely future energy development in Pennsylvania — including natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation, wind, forest biomass and the transmission wires and pipelines required to get this energy to consumers.

The project, titled the Pennsylvania Energy Impacts Assessment, models the forest and habitat impacts of existing energy developments, and considers the cumulative impacts to habitat from these multiple types of energy development over the next 20 years, based on current trends.
"If we do it right, it’s possible to develop much of Pennsylvania’s energy potential without negatively impacting forests and other habitat."

--Nels Johnson, Deputy State Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania Chapter.

 

Nature.org:

Why is the Nature Conservancy getting involved with energy?

Nels Johnson:

We can no longer protect nature without thinking about energy development. If current trends continue, 40 percent of core forest could see serious degradation. If we don’t get involved now, the special places that we’re working so hard to protect may not exist.

Nature.org:

Why did you choose these four energy sectors?

Nels Johnson:

Permitting data and state renewable energy goals indicate that wind, Marcellus shale gas and biomass, as well as the roads, pipelines and electric wires needed to transport energy will be the main factors in Pennsylvania’s energy economy. These three energy types are also more likely to impact Pennsylvania’s forests, as solar power generation, nuclear energy generation and coal extraction tend to happen in areas that are already developed.

Nature.org:

Why look 20 years into the future?

Nels Johnson:

Energy companies are taking the long view and we need to do the same. Considering a broad geography and a long timeline also allows the Conservancy and our partners to look at cumulative impacts of development – something that existing practices and regulations aren’t always designed to address.

Nature.org:

What kind of evidence did you use to build this model? Why is it trustworthy?

Nels Johnson:

The analysis incorporates data from energy developers and permit applications and uses digital mapping and probability software to predict the scale and approximate location of development, pixel-by-pixel. Using more than 60 map layers, information about likely energy development is combined with data about ecological and geological resources from state agencies, the Conservancy and conservation partners including Audubon and the Natural Heritage Program of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, to help us understand likely impacts to Pennsylvania habitat.

Nature.org:

What do you hope to accomplish by conducting this study?

Nels Johnson:

If we do it right, it’s possible to develop much of Pennsylvania’s energy potential without negatively impacting forests and other habitat , but neither developers nor regulators have had this information about where environmental conservation and development are likely to conflict. It’s not too late; but we have to act now.


Nels Johnson

is the Deputy State Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Pennsylvania Chapter.

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