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Anthropology Graduate Student Espino Studying Marcellus Shale Drilling at Archaeological Sites

Jason Espino, a graduate student in the M.A. in Applied Archaeology program and president of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology’s Allegheny Chapter in Pittsburgh, is developing his master’s thesis on a study of the impacts of shale drilling in Washington County.

Marcellus shale contains natural gas which can be collected from wells drilled into the shale bedrock deep below the surface.

Current legislation in Pennsylvania does not require the drilling industry to determine if archaeological sites can be avoided as wells are drilled. Instead, part of the Pennsylvania History code requires the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to conduct the archaeological investigations on state-permitted projects like Marcellus Shale projects. However, the agency’s budget has been cut, so no investigations are conducted. According to Espino, more than 3,000 recorded archaeological sites are found in Washington County. It is not known how many have been damaged, but Espino’s research may develop the data to answer this question.

Two well-known sites have been damaged in other parts of the Commonwealth. Friedenshuetten, a site north of Scranton on the Susquehanna River, was founded by a Moravian missionary and Native Americans of the Eastern Delaware Nation in 1763. The site has been disturbed by the construction of a gas well pipeline.

A second site in Southwestern Pennsylvania, a Monongahela village, was damaged by a drill rig. This site was the location of two villages, one dating to the mid-fifteenth century. This late village was attached and burned by unknown attackers who left unburied victims of the attack at the site. As much as half the site has been damaged.

The article, “Does the Natural Gas Boom Endanger Archaeology?” is published in Archaeology Magazine, a bimonthly publication of the Archaeological Institute of America. It appears in From the Trenches, a monthly column by Nikhil Swaminathan.

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