Pennsylvania's plan to award gas drilling rights on 32,000 acres of state forest land to energy companies for Marcellus Shale drilling could have a detrimental effect on fish and wildlife habitat.
The state legislature decided last fall to lease state land for gas drilling activities to generate revenue for the state. At the same time, the Pennsylvania legislature and Gov. Rendell declined to require a severance tax on gas drilling that would have generated significantly more revenue for the state. Pennsylvania is one of just a few states with natural gas resources that does not require a severance tax.
“The decision by Pennsylvania’s legislature to require the leasing of state forest land for gas drilling is a failure to protect public resources for the citizens of the Commonwealth now and in the future,” said Elizabeth Maclin, Trout Unlimited’s Vice President for Eastern Conservation. “The state seems more concerned with generating revenue in a manner acceptable to gas companies than it does with protecting its natural resources.”
The 32,000 acres of public state forest land are located in north central Pennsylvania in the Elk, Moshannon, Sproul, Susquehannock, and Tioga State Forests in Cameron, Clearfield, Clinton, Potter and Tioga Counties, places that are renowned for trout fishing. Eastern brook trout are found in this area. The only trout species native to the East Coast, their habitat is becoming rapidly diminished. The brook trout is Pennsylvania’s state fish.
“With one-third of our state forests now open to gas drilling, we are concerned that public recreation and water quality is at risk. We have already seen detrimental effects to water quality on our state forest land due to drilling, and find this unacceptable,” said Dave Rothrock, President of the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited. “The state budget should not be balanced at the expense of hunters and anglers.”
Trout Unlimited is concerned about the long-term ecological impacts of drilling in these areas, particularly the clearing of trees, habitat fragmentation, and sedimentation due to road crossings and construction.
The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, a multi-agency partnership, found in its comprehensive review of the species that habitat fragmentation and sedimentation are two of the major impacts limiting the health of brook trout populations.
Each Marcellus well also requires up to eight million gallons of water to extract the gas from beneath the earth’s surface. This water is often taken from rivers, streams and other sources near the drill site. In addition, the water is mixed with toxic and other chemicals and must be disposed of after being used at a drill site. The safe disposal and treatment of this water is an additional concern.
Over 990, 000 people hunt and fish in Pennsylvania each year. Hunting and fishing in the state generates over $3.9 million in revenue each year.
Trout Unlimited supports the responsible development of Marcellus Shale gas, but believes this development must take place in a manner that protects the irreplaceable fish and game habitat in the region.