Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Groups Rally Against More Gas Leasing On State Lands

Tuesday, citizens from across Pennsylvania joined by members of thirty-five of the state’s conservation, outdoor, environmental protection, and civic engagement organizations rallied in the Capitol rotunda against Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposal to lift an existing moratorium on natural gas leasing in Pennsylvania’s state forests.
They called on Gov. Corbett to rescind his proposal and on legislators to oppose the inclusion of revenue from leasing in state forests in the next state budget.
DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti outlined the proposal at recent Senate and House budget hearings saying 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 already leased by the state.  
She noted the state does not own the gas or mineral rights for 80 percent of State Park land and 20 percent of State Forest land.  There is no drilling on State Park lands now.
The Governor will also 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 at estimated $75 million in more funding without increasing taxes and damaging surface impacts. The revenues, she said, will be prioritized for use within DCNR specifically under the Executive Order, adding the current budget request and the Enhance Penn’s Woods initiative do not depend on these revenues.
Gov. Rendell issued an Executive Order in 2010 prohibiting further leasing on State Forest and Park land after his Administration leased 137,000 acres of State Forest for Marcellus Shale drilling.  The moratorium was issued on October 26 just days before the November gubernatorial election.
Click Here for more information on how DCNR regulates natural gas development in State Forests.
“All Pennsylvanians are the property owners and stewards of our public lands,” said Chuck Hunnell of the Center for Coalfield Justice and the Izaak Walton League. “Gov. Corbett is trying to take that away from us and give it to his friends in the gas industry. Those lands are not his to give.”
After the rally, the organizations delivered 15,726 petition signatures from Pennsylvanians opposed to further drilling on state forest and park land.
“In the days since the Governor announced his plan to lease more of our state forests, and for the first time, potentially our state parks as well for drilling, over 15,000 Pennsylvanian’s have spoken out and called upon the Governor and our state legislature to keep the current moratorium in place,” said Kristen Cevoli of PennEnvironment.  “Pennsylvanians love their state parks and forests, and don’t want to risk the most pristine places in our state to toxic fracking waste, explosions, and more damage.”
As recent polling demonstrates, the petition signatures represent broad public opposition to drilling in state parks and forests.
“Public sentiment has been clear on state forest drilling. The Franklin & Marshall poll results released only three weeks ago show that 68 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose state forest drilling,” said Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth.  “Exposing more of our sensitive forest land to fracking is bad policy and bad politics.”
[Note: The actual question asked by the Franklin & Marshall Poll includes the statement “...the state agency (DCNR) that manages the state’s forests believes additional drilling is likely to harm the forests.”  This statement is clearly out-of-date based on the testimony of DCNR officials at the Senate and House budget hearings.  The poll was also taken on January 14 before the details of the Corbett proposal were available.]
The groups argue that the long-term risks to the health of these forests significantly outweighs the short-term benefit of plugging holes in the state budget and outline the environmental and economic risks of the proposal, specifically focusing on the threat that increased gas activity poses to the tourism economy centered on Pennsylvania’s forests and parks.
"No matter how they get outside to play, hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians and all other recreation seekers do so to experience the beauty of the natural world,” said Frank Maguire of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. “The threats to state forests and state parks from gas extraction is something that concerns all who value the outdoors and we do not want to see the moratorium lifted.”
The rally organizers dispute the idea of “non-impact drilling,” noting that areas adjacent to drilling activity face include noise disturbance, heavy truck traffic, air pollution, and, as the recent tragic gas well fire in Greene County demonstrated, threat of genuine emergency.
“Increased drilling will impact thousands of Pennsylvanians as well as the natural lands we hold in trust for future generations,” said Rev. Sandy Strauss of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches.  “We, and our elected representatives, have a moral obligation to stand firm in protection of the people and places put at risk by Governor Corbett’s proposal.”
The constitution of Pennsylvania states that ‘Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”  
The organizations pledged to fight increased drilling in parks and forests, first in the legislature, but in the courts as well, should the legislature fail to block Gov. Corbett’s proposal.
"Leasing state land for gas extraction is causing harm,” said John Childe of the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation.  “Taking the money from a lease and using it for the general fund, rather than to protect and conserve the land that's being impacted, is unconstitutional."
Organizations supporting the rally and its message included: Aquashicola/ Pohopoco Watershed Conservancy, Berks Gas Truth, Center for Coalfield Justice, Citizens for Water, Clean Water Action, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Earthworks, Food and Water Watch, Greenpeace, Independence Conservancy, Keystone Trails Association, League of Women Voters Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley Gas Truth, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Mountain Watershed Association, PA Forest Coalition, Peach Bottom Concerned Citizens Group, PennEnvironment, Pennsylvania Council of Churches, Pine Creek Valley Watershed Association, Inc., Pipeline Safety Coalition , Pro-Pike-PA, Protecting Our Waters, Quittapahilla Audubon Society, Raymond Proffitt Foundation, Responsible Drilling Alliance, Sierra Club PA Chapter, Sierra Club Southeastern PA Group, Sierra Club, Allegheny Group, South Branch Tunkhannock Creek Watershed Coalition, South Hills Activists Against Dangerous Drilling, Upper Burrell Citizens Against Marcellus Pollution (CAMP), and the Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens' Group.

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