PennEnvironment Thursday released a new study which showed what it said is the far-reaching threat that gas drilling poses to parks, forests and public lands across Pennsylvania.
PennEnvironment’s report said five parks and forests are endangered by the threat of encroaching drilling, or have already been opened up to gas development and are exhibiting the environmental damage that predictably ensued.
“Pennsylvanians from every walk of life and all ends of the political spectrum love our parks, forests and public lands,” said Lina Blount, Field Associate from PennEnvironment. “We cannot allow our elected officials to use them as cash cows and leave a legacy of irreparable harm to these places we love. They need to be protected for our kids and future generations of Pennsylvanians who should be able to enjoy them as well.”
The five threatened public places highlighted in the report include:
-- Loyalsock State Forest: already home to over 100 well pads, Loyalsock has been under further threat as the Corbett administration has pushed to open 25,000 more acres to drilling;
-- Ohiopyle State Park: several companies have expressed interest in testing the park to determine ideal locations for drilling, as all the lands, waterfalls, and white water rivers of Ohiopyle sit entirely above the Marcellus Shale.
-- Delaware Water Gap: should the moratorium on drilling be lifted in the Delaware River Basin an estimated 15,000-18,000 wells could be drilled in the area
-- Allegheny County’s Deer Lakes Park: in the face of massive public protest, Allegheny County Council moved ahead with drilling under one of the county's most used and most beloved parks, opening up Deer Lakes Park to fracking by Range Resources and Huntley Co.
-- Cross Creek County Park, Washington County: Washington County’s largest park and popular fishing destination has been opened for drilling within park borders and 22 well pads have already been drilled since 2008. In 2009 a spill of over 4,000 gallons of frack fluid spread to a nearby stream, leading to the death of fish and other organisms according to the Department of Environmental Protection.
“With so much private land being developed and drilled, the state forests are quickly becoming a last refuge for species requiring pristine headwater streams and large blocks of intact habitat. And many of our state parks and forests protect the sources of the clean water upon which we depend for drinking, recreation, and for wildlife,” said Paul Zeph, Director of Conservation for Audubon Pennsylvania. “We need to say ‘no more’ to damage to our forests. Say ‘no more’ to leasing our state lands.”
During his administration, Gov. Rendell directed DCNR to lease 137,000 acres of State Forest land for Marcellus Shale drilling, then shortly before the 2010 gubernatorial election issued a moratorium on leasing further DCNR lands. (Click Here for more background.)
More recently, the General Assembly and Gov. Corbett have pressed to open up more state forests—and for the first time ever state parks—to drilling.
All told, 700,000 acres of state forestland is available for drilling due to either privately owned oil and gas rights, or because of acreage leased by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Gov. Corbett has been a proponent of lifting the moratorium on drilling in the Delaware River watershed, a move some groups say could threaten the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a part of the U.S. National Park System.
John Norbeck, vice president of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future said, “during his campaign, Gov.-elect Wolf talked about a much more long-term and environmentally conscious view on the value our natural resources brings to Pennsylvania and its public lands. We are optimistic that the environmental community can work with the new administration and legislature to not only protect but to enhance our public lands. These lands help define who we are as Pennsylvanians and must be treated as such.”
In the spring of 2014, Gov. Corbett went even further and announced his plan to lift the moratorium on leasing more state forestland acreage for what he called “non-impact” drilling, and for the first time ever to open up Pennsylvania’s state parks to drilling.
In the summer of 2014, the Republican-led legislature approved a state budget that required DCNR to raise $95 million by opening up more state parks and forests to drilling—putting the pressure on state conservation officials to handover more public lands to drilling companies to fill state coffers.
Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said last week he did not anticipate receiving the revenue from the additional drilling in FY 2014-15, the implication being additional drilling would not occur.
Gov.-elect Wolf has pledged to reinstate the moratorium on further leasing in state forestlands and halting any leasing in state parks, restoring critical protections for these public lands.
"I applaud Gov.-elect Wolf on his pledge to reinstate the moratorium on further leasing of state lands for gas drilling,” said Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. “Hopefully this includes terminating Corbett's recent $90 million lease plan. I also applaud Wolf's pledge to attempt to protect Loyalsock state forest."
“State leadership under Gov. Corbett left many of our most precious parks and forests on the chopping block,” said Lina Blount. “We’re look forward to working with Gov.-elect Wolf who made protecting the parks and forests loved by millions of Pennsylvanians a cornerstone of his campaign.”
A copy of PennEnvironment’s report is available online.
For more information on drilling in existing State Forest lands leased by Gov. Rendell, visit DCNR’s Natural Gas Development and State Forests webpage.NewsClip: Report Criticizes Expanded Drilling On Public Land