Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Budget Hearing: Senators Recommend More Drilling In State Forests To Fund An Expanded Growing Greener Program

Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Wednesday suggested one funding source for an expanded Growing Greener Program could be allowing additional natural gas drilling on DCNR’s state forest lands.
During questioning of DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn at the Senate’s budget hearing, it was noted there are about 800,000 acres of state forest land in the Marcellus Shale natural gas play that have yet to be leased for drilling.
Leasing as few as 25,000 of those acres, Sen. Yaw said, could result in as much as $100 million in upfront payments, plus the payment of royalties over time for the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund.
The Growing Greener Program provides recreation, land conservation and environmental restoration grants to local governments, land trusts and watershed groups, as well has funding for on-farm conservation practices that help meet Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup commitments and implement TMDL nutrient reduction plans statewide.
Sen. Yaw said he is a big believer in using resources the state already owns for the public’s benefit and referenced Senate Bill 104 (Bartolotta-R-Washington), reported out of his Committee in January, urging Gov. Wolf to lift his moratorium on state forest land leasing.
He pointed to provisions in the resolution supporting non-surface disturbance horizontal drilling, which he said means no cutting roads or trees to extract the natural gas.
Secretary Dunn said she does not believe additional drilling could be done without surface disturbance.  She also cautioned the current natural gas market may not support the same level of upfront payments DCNR has received in the previous leases.
She said there has been a lot of development on state forest leases already and probably more leasing than should have been allowed.
John Norbeck, Deputy Secretary for Parks and Forestry, noted the existing drilling leases are only about 40 percent built out, with 60 percent to go.
In response to a question from Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Dunn said the agency will soon issue its second monitoring report documenting the impacts of drilling on state forests.  Norbeck added the report should be available by May 30.
DCNR works with a Natural Gas Advisory Committee on the report and other issues related to drilling on state forest lands.  For more information, visit DCNR’s Natural Gas Management webpage.
[Note: In January of 2017, Sen. Yaw and other Pennsylvania members of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission wrote to members of the Senate and House pointing to the need for a dedicated Clean Water Fund for PA and a new water use fee as one way to fund the initiative.]
Lyme Timber Loan
In response to a question from Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York), Dunn provided background on a recent $25.4 million loan from the PA Infrastructure Investment Authority to Lyme Timber Company to put over 9,362 acres of private forest land into a working forest conservation easement.
The funding will help create over 50 new forestry jobs and leverage over $91 million of private investment in 7 counties: Cameron, Clinton, Elk, Jefferson, McKean, Potter and Venango.  Dunn said a total of $50 million has been loaned by PennVEST to Lyme Timber for the project.
The project will also serve to preserve, protect and improve water quality. The property includes an acid mine drainage restoration project within the Sterling Run tract.
Dunn noted that a conservation easement limits certain uses or prevents subdivision and fragmentation from taking place on the land, which still remains in private hands to continue to provide economic benefits in the form of jobs and property taxes.
The funding for this project came from a combination of state funds approved by voters, federal grants to PennVEST from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and recycled loan repayments from previous PennVEST funding awards.
ATV Use Expansion
In response to questions by Sen. Yaw and Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) about expanding ATV riding opportunities, John Norbeck, and Laura Imgrund, DCNR Deputy Secretary for Conservation and Technical Services, said the agency is completing a study looking at expanding ATV riding opportunities across the state, including locating sites for ATV parks and expanding ATV trails.  The study should be available by mid-summer.
Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, expressed his concern about signs of “financial stress” in the Oil and Gas Lease and Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) funds because they have been used to keep the agency running.  He said once you spend out these funds it is difficult for them to recover.
Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), Minority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, voiced a concern about additional drilling on DCNR lands saying “once you use it, you lose it” and the Commonwealth has to think carefully about how these valuable public resources are to be managed.
Click Here for a copy of Secretary Dunn’s written testimony.
Click Here for video of Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearings and the complete hearing schedule.
This completes DCNR's initial Senate and House budget hearings.
For more information on state parks and forests and recreation in Pennsylvania, visit DCNR’s website, Click Here to sign up for the Resource newsletter, Visit the Good Natured DCNR Blog,  Click Here for upcoming events, Click Here to hook up with DCNR on other social media-- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
(Photo: Deputy Secretary for Administration Michael Walsh, Secretary Dunn, Deputy Secretary John Norbeck, and Deputy Secretary Lauren Imgrund.)
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