You are herePittsburgh Post-Gazette: State's laws offer little shale drilling protection to archaeological sites

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: State's laws offer little shale drilling protection to archaeological sites


May 8, 2011- An excavation at a Westmoreland County site once occupied by Monongahela Indians produced abundant evidence of two villages and allowed researchers to piece together the violent end of the later settlement at the hand of invaders who sacked it, massacred its inhabitants and burnt houses and food stores, said William C. Johnson, who served as an adviser to the project.

But when Mr. Johnson returned to the dig site last year he was stunned by what he found.

"There is a drill rig and catchment basin sitting on half the village," said Mr. Johnson, who received a doctoral degree from the University of Pittsburgh and served as senior prehistoric archaeologist for Michael Baker Jr. Engineering Inc. "You have something there -- which is better than you get with [excavations of] other villages -- that has been destroyed by drilling."

The Kirshner site near West Newton is one of a number of sites to be damaged or destroyed by drilling, and those who have turned to state officials seeking help in preserving them have found that Pennsylvania's laws offer little or no protection for archaeological resources.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the state agency that oversees historic sites including areas of archaeological value, has no power to compel investigation or preservation and no money to conduct field investigations of sites that state law mandates it pay for.

Mike Kotz, a Washington County vegetable grower with an interest in the artifacts he encountered in his agricultural work, has sought to protect sites of proven or potential value from destruction by natural gas operations. Many other types of construction and industrial activities can also damage cultural resources, but the rapid growth of Marcellus Shale drilling means a big increase in road building, drilling site work, construction of compressor stations, pipeline laying and other activities associated with work in the vast rock formation underlying much of Pennsylvania from which natural gas is extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

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