Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Additional Natural Gas Leasing Focus Of DCNR Senate Budget Hearing

Gov. Corbett’s proposal for “no impact” leasing of additional State Forest and Park land was the subject of many of the questions DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti received at the Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing for DCNR Wednesday.
Other topics covered included: drilling in Loyalsock State Forest, the Enhance Penn’s Wood proposal, Heritage Parks funding, reliance on Oil and Gas Fund revenues to pay for DCNR operations and upgrading the PNDI threatened and endangered species screening tool.
Click Here for a copy of Secretary Ferretti’s budget testimony. Click Here for video Of Senate Appropriations Hearing (Look for Playlist).
Here is a quick summary of some of the more important issues covered--
Additional Natural Gas Leasing:  Sen. Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said he received hundreds of the same email opposing lifting the moratorium on additional leasing of State Park and Forest land for natural gas leasing and asked Secretary Ferretti for an overview of the proposal.  Secretary Ferretti said the additional leasing would include deep, horizontal drilling from adjacent private land without additional surface impacts under State Parks or from existing or planning well pads on State Forest land.  The Governor will issue a new Executive Order specifically guaranteeing additional leasing will have no impact on surface impacts on state lands.  Secretary Ferretti said it is an opportunity to generate more funding without increasing taxes. The revenues will be prioritized for use within DCNR specifically under the Executive Order.
Sen. Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, asked what additional studies have been done to determine the environmental impacts of drilling.  Secretary Ferretti said they are updating their information all the time, and DCNR staff has done a “stellar job” in managing the natural gas leases entered into by the Rendell Administration.
Sen. Yudichak followed-up by noting there has been no conventional drilling on State Park, why the change now.  Secretary Ferretti said the Commonwealth does not own the mineral rights under most State Parks, and none is being proposed from the surface under the Governor’s proposal.
Sen. Gordner (R-Columbia) noted the Rendell Administration leased 137,000 acres of State Forest land for Marcellus Shale gas leasing and then imposed a moratorium on additional leasing after they were done.  He also confirmed the state does not own the mineral rights under 80 percent of State Parks, but do own mineral rights under 80 percent of State Forest lands.
Secretary Ferretti said the state can work with drilling companies where they do not own the mineral rights, like other landowners, if proposals are made.
Sen. Farnese (D-Philadelphia) asked what procedures are in place to protect State Parks from drilling.  Secretary Ferretti said, noting DCNR only owns 20 percent of the mineral rights under State Parks, they would encourage voluntary surface agreements with drilling companies to limit impacts on surface areas.  However, the Governor’s proposal would not allow additional leasing if it resulted in surface impacts.
Sen. Corman (R-Centre) asked if DCNR needed anything to manage natural gas leasing on or near State Parks and State Forests.  He said he and others in the Senate stand prepared to work with the Secretary to get the agency what it needs.  Secretary Ferretti said she appreciated the offer and noted DCNR’s staff has worked extraordinarily hard to protect the Commonwealth’s resources.
Enhance Penn’s Woods: In response to a question from Sen. Yaw, Secretary Ferretti provided an overview of the Enhance Penn’s Woods proposal.  She noted the program is the largest investment ever made in State Park and State Forest infrastructure and is not dependent on revenue from any additional natural gas leasing.
Relying on Oil and Gas Revenues: In response to a question from Sen. Yudichak about relying on Oil and Gas revenues for supporting DCNR staff and operations, Secretary Ferretti said existing law sets aside the first $50 million for DCNR’s use and any additional funds would have to be considered each year with the budget.
Loyalsock State Forest Drilling: Sen. Yaw asked for an update on proposals to drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest.  Secretary Ferretti said she met with groups that have concerns about drilling in the State Forest shortly after she became Secretary.  She noted the Commonwealth does not own the mineral rights and has no more rights than any other landowner.  To date, the drilling company has not come to DCNR with a specific drilling proposal.
Heritage Parks: Sen. Rafferty (R-Montgomery) expressed concern about the proposal to zero out funding for Heritage Parks grant program.  Secretary Ferretti said the Heritage areas are eligible for funding under the Community Conservation Partnership Grants.  Any make-up funding, she said,  would need to be considered by the General Assembly.
Sen. Argall (R-Schuylkill) said the General Assembly did add $2.5 million for Heritage Parks last year.  Secretary Ferretti said in past years, even without funding, DCNR did fund Heritage Area proposals.
Community Conservation Partnership Grants: Sen. Schwank (D-Berks) asked what priorities DCNR has for the C2P2 grant program.  Secretary Ferretti said she believes in a competitive program and has not established specific priorities.  Sen. Schwank said some communities proposing swimming pools have not received funding, which Secretary Ferretti said was probably the result of the competitiveness of the program.
Dirt And Gravel Road Program: Sen. Rafferty, Majority Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, noted DCNR did receive additional funds for the program in the transportation funding plan, and Secretary Ferretti thanked members for the additional monies.
Timber Revenues: Sen. Vogel (R-Beaver) noted there has been drop in the revenue from timber cut on State Forest land.  Dan Devlin, Acting Deputy for Parks and Forestry, noted DCNR has a goal of cutting about 14,000 acres of timber in any given year, not a specific revenue goal.  He explained the timber market has been depressed, but has rebounded somewhat and that accounted for lower revenues.  Secretary Ferretti added since DCNR cuts about the same amount of acreage each year, it has helped sustain many small timber operations.  Timber sale revenues help support DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry operations.
In response to a question from Sen. Solobay (D-Washington), Secretary Ferretti said there is no commercial timbering in State Parks like there is on State Forest land
Bald Eagle Nature Inn: In response to a question from Sen. Vogel, Secretary Ferretti said DCNR has no plans now for facilities similar to the Bald Eagle Nature Inn in other areas of the state.
Public/Private Partnerships: Sen. Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) asked if DCNR has plans to expand partnerships with private vendors in State Parks.  Secretary Ferretti said there are now 145 private concessionaires in State Parks and they are looking to expand those kinds of partnerships.  She added they are looking at private/public partnerships authorized for transportation-related projects, but no specific projects are being considered now.
Forest Pest Management: Sen. Schwank (D-Berks) asked for an update on forest pest management.  Secretary Ferretti said forest pest management staff has been brought together physically with the rest of DCNR and that has helped improved coordination.  She said they are also making better use of the Department of Agriculture laboratory for its pest management programs.   Asked about the adequacy of funding, Dan Devlin said many forest pests expand or contract based on the weather.  The cold weather and a wet Spring would help knock down many pest populations this year.
Ryerson Park Dam Rebuild: In response to a question from Sen. Solobay (D-Washington), Secretary Ferretti said dredging of the Ryerson State Park lake bed will start this year and rebuilding of the dam damaged by longwall coal mining is scheduled to start next year.
Trail Projects: In response to a question from Sen. Baker (R-Luzerne) about the priority DCNR puts on development of trail projects, Secretary Ferretti said they are looking to close some of the gaps in trails and are working with public and private partners to make that happen.  She said in some cases the impediments to making these connections are funding, but in others the land ownership patterns along a trail.
PNDI System: Sen. Baker asked the status of upgrades to the PA Natural Diversity Inventory system.  Secretary Ferretti said DCNR is about to put out an RFP to upgrade the computer system for the system that allows project sponsors to do checks for rare, endangered or threatened plant and animal species.  She noted the existing system has already been updated to make it easier for users to check their projects.
Secretary Ferretti will appear before the House Appropriations Committee February 25 at 11:30.

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner