My setup in upper field - 20"
Starmaster Dob and 5" Astro-Tech Triplet Refractor for imaging:
I arrived at the park on Saturday,
July 18 for the New Moon period. I set up my 5 inch Astro-Tech
triplet refractor and 20 inch Starmaster. The skies were clearing
out nicely as evening arrived. My plan was to image objects to
the South in Sagittarius. After setting up and doing a polar alignment,
I was disappointed (being kind with that description) with flickering
flashes of light in the clear night sky to the Southwest. I learned
that the source of the sky glow was the burn-off flame from a
gas well that was being drilled about three miles from the park.
You can learn more about the Marcellus Shale Gas Reserves in PA
I was unable to image because of the glow. As clouds rolled in
the orange-ish glow got worse as it reached upward from the Southwest
to the Zenith! Gone are the black underbelly of clouds at Cherry
Springs Dark Sky Park.
July 18, 2009 - Southwest from
upper field - 15 second exposure at ISO 1600 with Canon 10D digital
camera using 18mm lens:
July 19, 2009 Animation - Southwest
from upper field - 15 second exposures at ISO 1600 with Canon
10D digital camera using 18mm lens:
We took a drive to the gas drilling
site at night to learn more about it. While there we took these
photos which were difficult to expose correctly because the glare
from the gas drill burn-off flame (flaring) was so bright. It
was similar to trying to photograph with the glare of the sun
directly in an image.
You can see a daytime image of
the gas drilling site by Curt Weinhold HERE
The burn-off flame made a great
source of light (artificial Sun) for taking photographs at night
without having to use a camera flash:
Below, Elliott and Tony are pointing
in the direction of Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park about three miles
away. Light from the gas drill burn-off flame can be seen illuminating
the top of the nearby mountain range to the Northeast.
Handholding my digital camera,
as I would during full daylight, I took multiple exposures to
create a panorama of the burn-off flame and how it illuminates
the surrounding trees and mountains. The car is preparing to turn
onto the road to Conrad, with it's fishing stream alongside, running
from left to right.
This photo provides an idea of
how high the burn-off flame is, compared to nearby trees:
Animation created from images
of burn-off flame at gas drill site near Cherry Springs. The changing
shape of the burn-off flame is what causes the flickering of lights
across the sky. Some Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park campers said
that the flickering was noticeable INSIDE their camping tents.
Elliott McKinley took a video
of the gas burn-off (flaring) with his cell phone while we were
there and posted it on YouTube HERE.
Tony Donnangelo also took some
photos and they are posted HERE.
Some links to videos on YouTube
of gas flaring:
Youtube - Gas Flares From Space
A view of global gas flaring based on satellite observations
Blog about Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling near Hickory, Pa with completed tower
Lighting a gas flare - Night turns into Day
- July 27, 2009: I have
been informed by Maxine Harrison, Dark Sky Director, that the
company doing the drilling has been contacted about the problem.
There are actually two drill sites with flaring at this time.
The other flaring is at Bark Shanty in the direction of Coudersport,
on a high ridge and its sky glow is blending with the Coudersport
sky glow as viewed from the Dark Sky Park. The company was not
aware that flaring would be a problem for the Dark Sky Park. Reports
are that the drill company has stated that the drilling will be
over "soon" and that they are very willing to work with
the park towards a resolution. A possibility discussed was not
to burn during dark of the moon or weekends with scheduled programs.
Maxine Harrison has posted an
update on the "Cherry Springs Dark Sky Fund/Association"
web site HERE.
video on the movie "Gasland" by Josh Fox, winner of The Special
Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
The film documents tap water that can be ignited at the kitchen
faucet, drinking water well explosions, toxic streams and ruined
aquifers, polluting gas venting from drill rigs, threats to watersheds
and river basins, unexplained illnesses and dying livestock.
After this experience, I made
an effort to learn as much as I could about Marcellus gas well
drilling in Pennsylvania. My opinion is that the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania has taken an approach of fast-tracking the installations
of as many Marecellus gas drill sites as possible by eliminating
local environmental reviews. This is evidenced by the action taken
by PA Department of Environmental Protection, (D.E.P.), on April
1, 2009 that eliminated local conservation districts from the
permit process of Erosion and Sedimentation and Stream and Wetlands
in relation to the natural gas industry. Who knows better about
local streams and wetlands than local experts that work and live
in the communities affected?
Can you believe that Pennsylvania
still has outdated regulations in place that allow these gas wells
to be drilled as close as 200 feet from a home, or within 100
feet of streams and wetlands? Can you imagine having a natural
gas flaring as near as 200 feet from your home? The gas drill
we visited was also very close to a stream that is popular for
For astronomy, a natural gas flaring
is one of the worst man-made light pollution sources as observed
from space satellites at night. During my five day visit to the
Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park, the nighttime gas flaring occurred
for my entire stay and deep sky astro-imaging was not possible.
This was at a State Park supposedly protected as a "Dark
Sky Preserve" by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and designated
as an International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) by the International
Dark-Sky Association (IDA). The certification recognized Cherry
Springs State Park's exceptional commitment to dark sky protection
and restoration on public lands. The area is one of two natural
night sky areas remaining in the Eastern United States. Has the
The PA Department of Environmental Protection taken any actions
to protect this Dark Sky Park from nighttime gas flarings?
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
advertises Cherry Springs Dark Sky Park as part of the "Pennsylvania
Wilds tourism region, a 12-county region in northcentral and northwestern
Pennsylvania offering visitors remote, authentic and rugged outdoor
experiences. The region includes more than 2 million acres of
lands, including 29 state parks, eight state forests, thousands
of miles of streams and trails, and the Allegheny National Forest.
Visitors to the region enjoy boundless natural beauty, unlimited
recreation, and old fashioned, small town charm."
I can attest that gas drill flarings
at night are not in any way an outdoor experience of "natural
Pennsylvania says this about the
International Dark Sky Certification: "This designation is
continued validation that this region has something special to
offer to our visitors," said DCNR Secretary Michael DiBerardinis.
"We are proud of what we have protected, and hope our visitors
will enjoy the remoteness of the Pennsylvania Wilds and Cherry
Springs State Park for many years to come."
When it comes to natural gas flarings
at night and the thousands of gas drills that are expected in
each of the Northern and Western counties of PA, the areas of
darkest skies in the Commonwealth, I fear that what we can expect
for many years to come is continued loss of our our vanishing
natural night sky resource.