Saturday, November 21, 2020

COVID Pandemic Delayed DCNR’s Shale Gas Drilling Monitoring Efforts In State Forests

On November 18,
DCNR Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council heard a presentation on DCNR’s ongoing efforts to monitor the environmental and natural resource impacts of shale gas drilling on state forest land.

Shawn Lehman, DCNR’s Resource Inventory and Monitoring Section, said the COVID pandemic shutdown in March coincided with the beginning of the field season for staff monitoring the impacts of drilling.

"We missed some critical things associated with invasive species, specifically our treatment, using pre-emergent herbicide, on poison hemlock, goat's rue, and mile-a-minute. The delay also delayed doing our macroinvertebrate sampling,” said Lehman. 

"But in reality, it gave us an opportunity to kind of take a breath, review and update some key things that we had within our section,” he said.  “So we were able to update our field manuals, we organized some data files, and we updated a few key database applications and some of our data collection front-ends we have for importing, storing, and analyzing our monitoring data.

“We did start out a little bit behind, but we are back on track for accomplishing our 2020 schedule,” Lehman said.  “And I really wanna recognize and give credit to our foresters and forest technicians in our section for really getting us back on track, because these folks take a lot of pride in their work.

“They understand the need and the importance of what we do, and the need for consistency, and that precision in the measurements that we take, and they've really been working their tails off to get back on track this field season.” 

Lehman said DCNR has over 350 water sampling sites on a three year sampling cycle.  This year they got to 130 sites so far, with another 20 to go.

Of the sites they visited, none had measurements or observations that deviated from previous visits.

They have also sampled at 23 of the 25 macroinvertebrate collection sites they had on the schedule.

They also did post-construction stormwater surveys on 12 roads and five paths as well as road assessments on 107 roads used by drilling operations in seven forest districts.

“Invasive species continue to be the biggest issue we face with shale gas development. We schedule invasive surveys on all our infrastructure pads on a regular cycle. This year, we completed 58 pads in six different [forest] districts,” Lehman said.

“Our Early Detection Rapid Response Program is one of our most effective programs that we have and really it's because it's not just monitoring,” explained Lehiman.  It's actually taking an active and immediate action on high-priority subset of invasive plants as they are encountered. 

“Over the years, our numbers of population sites we are treating continues to grow, and this year field crews have identified another four additional EDRR populations that we have on our caseload that we are addressing,” said Lehman.

DCNR also does sound measurements as part of DCNR’s regular monitoring programs covering five forest districts.  They also leaf-on and leaf-off sound measurements at 12 natural gas compressor stations.

Lehman noted DCNR issued its most recent of two formal reports on the environmental impact of shale gas drilling in state forest lands in 2018.  The prior report was in 2014.

The monitoring reports cover impacts to infrastructure, flora, forest health, invasive species, water, soil, air, incidents, fauna, recreation, community engagement, timber, energy, revenue and forest landscapes. Read more here.

Lehman said DCNR is also developing a shale gas monitoring online storymap presentation for their data that is now undergoing review before being released to the public.

On the status of gas drilling on state forest land, Lehman said, “The slow-down in activity is pretty evident, in so far as infrastructure numbers. They're not really rising that much as far as the amount of land converted to that type of activity.  If anything, we're seeing a little bit of a reduction.”

DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn reported earlier this year that only about 30 to 35 percent of the current shale gas lease sites have been built out.

Lehman said some drilling infrastructure sites have been temporarily revegetated until the companies decide to reactive them again.  Invasive species also tend to be a problem at these sites which they address through the Early Detection Rapid Response Program.

He noted there are provisions in the current gas leases addressing invasive plants and they work very closely with the operators on controlling those populations.

Click Here for a copy of Lehman’s presentation.

For more information on gas drilling on State Forest land, visit DCNR’s Natural Gas Management webpage. Click Here for a DCNR fact sheet on shale as leasing in State Forests generally.

For more information, visit DCNR’s Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council webpage.  Click Here to submit comments to or contact the Council.

Related Article - Monitoring Drilling:

-- DCNR Proposes Replacing Recreational Value Lost From Gas Drilling On State Forest Land Bought With Federal Funds With Property In Chester County

Related Article - Council:

-- DCNR: Weather, COVID Pandemic, Western U.S. Fires Made 2020 A Challenging Year In Wildfire Protection

Related Articles - DCNR:

-- Hundreds Of Thousands Oppose Cuts In Local Recreation, Conservation Project Funding 

-- $201,977,000 Diverted From Environment, Energy Funds To Balance Fy 2020-21 State Budget 

-- DCNR Requires Out-of-State Visitors To Have Negative COVID-19 Test Or Quarantine Before Visiting Parks

-- DCNR Finalizes ATV Trail Policy To Allow New Riding Opportunities On State Forest Lands 

-- Public Invited To Participate In Lower Delaware Wild & Scenic Recreation Capacity Study, Nov. 30 Town Hall

-- Reminder: WeConservePA Virtual 2021 Conference Workshop Proposals Due Dec. 14

-- Nov. 20 Take Five Fridays With Pam, PA Parks & Forests Foundation

[Posted: November 21, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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