Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quigley: DCNR Does Not Have Resources To Police State Forest Drilling

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Acting Secretary John Quigley told the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee today his agency does not have the resources to police State Forest Land Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling as it ramps up over the next few years.
He said drilling will cover one-third of the State Forest system and involve thousands of new wells and thousands of new miles of collection pipelines and roads that will fragment forest land. He noted Bureau of Forestry staff has effectively been cut in half with the 2009-10 budget cuts.
Acting Secretary Quigley also said budget cuts for 2009-10 have forced his agency to fundamentally change the State Park system from a year-round operation to a seasonal one because of cuts of 700 wage positions in the Parks eliminating maintenance work, environmental education and teacher training programs and reducing hours.
Currently there are 250 wells on State Forest land of which three are active Marcellus Shale natural gas wells. Acting Secretary Quigley said 100 more Marcellus Shale wells are in advanced stages of development so far.
He said DCNR currently leases about 660,000 acres of State Forest land for well drilling, which will increase to over 700,000 when the current year leases are finalized. Quigley said he anticipates going out for a third round of Marcellus Shale leases in the middle of next year once the second round is completed.
Asked by Sen. Ted Erickson (R-Delaware) about the adequacy of staff to oversee the leases, Acting Secretary Quigley said the agency is now doing an evaluation of staffing needs because it is clear, faced with thousands of new wells and thousands of miles of new collector wells and supporting structures, current staffing will not be adequate to deal with this activity.
DCNR is planning a summit next year with the oil and gas industry, Quigley said, to explore ways in which the agency can partner with the industry to develop best management practices and other tools that will reduce the staff needed to police the leases.
Quigley said the scale of Marcellus Shale gas leasing means it will be the "dominate activity for the agency for the next generation." At the same time, he said DCNR is determined to maintain the "gold standard" in regulating the natural gas leases in ways that go beyond what other landowners would do because of concerns about forest land impacts.
Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) asked if county conservation districts or staff from the Department of Environmental Protection could help with overseeing gas well leases. Acting Secretary Quigley said DEP and DCNR have very different missions. DCNR is a land manager and has to deal with the impact on the State Forest system and its wildlife and other resources, while DEP is concerned with water quality and other impacts.
Quigley expressed concern about the extent of forest land fragmentation that will result from introducing thousands of new miles of natural gas collection lines and roads into State Forests saying they will have to find new and creative ways to manage these impacts.
Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester) said DCNR should look for other innovative ways to fund its lease oversight activities because he felt support was not coming through the state General Fund. He said he was disappointed Gov. Rendell gave up on the idea of a severance tax on natural gas for this year because he thought that might be part of the solution.
In response to a question by Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver), Acting Secretary Quigley said he has enough funding from the Oil and Gas Fund to keep State Parks open, with reduced services, for this fiscal year. Left unsaid was whether that same commitment can be made for next year.
Quigley also noted his agency is much more dependent on funding day to day operations from the Oil and Gas Fund than ever before, and not only to help keep State Parks open. He said with the collapse of the timber markets, the Bureau of Forestry ran out of money this past March and all of its operational costs had to be taken from the Oil and Gas Fund to finish the fiscal year. He said things do not look much better for next year.
Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango) asked Quigley if he was aware the four Caucuses and Gov. Rendell have agreed to take another $180 million from the Oil and Gas Fund to help balance the 2010-11 state budget. He replied he was not.
Over the last two budgets, $60 million taken from the Oil and Gas Fund to balance the 2009-10 budget and the $143 million taken from the Fund to balance the 2008-09 budget. (11/23/09 Pa Environment Digest)
A copy of Quigley's prepared remarks is available online. Video of the full December 15 hearing is also available at the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee webpage.
Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango) serves as Majority Chair of the Committee and Sen. Ray Musto (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair.

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