Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Senate Republicans Again Suggest DCNR Allow More Natural Gas Drilling To Fund Park/Forest Operations; New Hellbender License Plate Coming In June

On March 21, the
Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on DCNR’s proposed FY 2023-24 budget request again resulted in a discussion of increasing drilling in or under State Forest and Park land and other typical issues covered year in and year out.

However, the biggest news coming out of the hearing for many conservationists was that a new Eastern Hellbender vehicle license plate is on the way in June to support the Wild Resource Conservation Program

More Drilling Urged On Or Under DCNR Land

Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee, asked his perennial question about the need for DCNR to lease more areas either on or under State Forest/Park land for shale gas drilling to produce revenue to fund DCNR operations.  He suggested it could be accomplished with “no surface disturbance” drilling.

“Non-surface disturbance lease involves an 8-inch hole 6,000 feet down under the ground-- where you talked about the timber sales occupying 14,750 acres of surface area every year,” said Sen. Yaw.  “You’re sitting on assets which non-surface disturbance leases would give you the opportunity to provide much more for the citizens of Pennsylvania. I look at it like you’re sitting on a Mega Million winning lottery ticket and you won’t cash it.”

Acting DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said the proposed budget request includes using $112 million of existing Oil and Gas Lease Fund revenue-- double previous years-- to support State Parks and Forest infrastructure projects.

“The lottery ticket for us is the recreation economy-- it’s bigger than gas, it’s bigger than a lot of other industries combined and it helps attract young people to live, work and play in Pennsylvania and helps retain and bring people back," said Acting Secretary Dunn.

[Note: During last year’s Senate budget hearing, Secretary Dunn pointed out 65 percent of the existing shale gas leases it has with drillers on State Forest land have not been developed.  Read more here.]

[Note: When DCNR leased the first State Forest land for shale gas drilling in 2008-2010, the first thing the General Assembly did was to take upfront payments and royalty monies away from DCNR and its infrastructure needs to balance the state budget-- over $383 million-- and pay for DCNR’s personnel and operating expenses.  Read more here.

[These diversions were declared unconstitutional by the PA Supreme Court in 2017 and following cases, but the General Assembly and Governors have ignored those court decisions. Read more here.

[These diversions away from DCNR infrastructure needs by the General Assembly and Governors have totaled over $1.1 billion. Read more here.]

Of course, there is no such thing as “no surface disturbance” drilling because drill pads, drilling water and natural gas pipelines, compressor stations, pigging stations, onsite solid and liquid waste disposal and air pollution from each of these natural gas infrastructure operations has to be constructed some where and operated to develop shale gas leases on State Forest Land. 

Acting Secretary Dunn also acknowledged “some of the gas leases we’ve done [related to State Forest Land]-- like on the Loyalsock [Creek, Lycoming County]-- the impact to the surrounding public has been the pipelines. There it’s a major public issue. Read more here.]

New Hellbender License Plate Coming 

Acting Secretary Dunn confirmed PennDOT will be retiring the existing river otter vehicle license plate that supports the Wild Resource Conservation Program and replacing it with an Eastern Hellbender plate in recognition of the state’s official clean water ambassador and state amphibian.

These special license plates are available from PennDOT upon request of vehicle owners.  The added fee of $15 for the river otter and new Eastern Hellbender goes directly to support the Wild Resource Conservation Fund.

It’s ironic that unconventional shale gas drilling operations on State Forest Land leased for drilling have threatened the habitat of the Hellbender in the Loyalsock Creek Watershed in Lycoming County and other areas.  Read more here.

Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee, championed the designation of the Hellbender, but has done nothing to protect the hellbender habitat from gas drilling infrastructure in the Loyalsock Creek Watershed in his own district.  Read more here.

Click Here for DCNR’s written budget testimony.

Senate Budget Hearing Videos + Written Testimony

(Photo: Dr. Peter Petokas, Eastern Hellbender researcher at Lycoming College.)

Resource Links:

-- Click Here for DCNR’s written budget testimony.

-- DCNR Posts FY 2023-24 Budget Proposal Documents

-- Click Here for a copy of DEP’s Budget Testimony.

-- 10 Point Plan For Improving Permit Review Efficiency

-- DEP Posts Documents On Proposed FY 2023-24 Agency Budget Request

-- Click Here for a copy of the expanded Proposed Budget In Brief.

-- Click Here for Gov. Shapiro’s Budget Address as prepared.


-- The Center Square - Anthony Hennen: In PA, Drilling On Public Land Loses And 2 Invasive Bugs Win

Related Articles This Week - Budget:

-- DEP Offers 10 Point Plan To Improve Permit Reviews; Climate/Energy Work Group Co-Chairs Announced; Work Group Formed To Prevent New Oil & Gas Well Abandonments  [PaEN]

-- House Budget Hearing: Acting DEP Secretary Outlines His Views On Environmental Justice, Announces Fernando Treviño As Special Deputy For Environmental Justice  [PaEN]

-- DEP Acting Secretary Negrin Wants To Encourage A Culture Of Being User-Friendly At DEP And Used The Train Derailment Response As An Example  [PaEN]  

-- DEP Projects Over $1.5 Million Deficit In Account Funding Oil & Gas Regulation Program In FY 2023-24  [PaEN]

-- DEP Budget Testimony: Increasing Permitting Efficiency, Cleaning Up Legacy Pollution, Investing In Communities, Holding Companies Accountable  [PaEN]

-- Senate Republicans Again Suggest DCNR Allow More Natural Gas Drilling To Fund Park/Forest Operations; New Hellbender License Plate Coming In June  [PaEN]

-- DCNR Budget Testimony: Supporting PA’s Outdoor Recreation Industry, Conserving Natural Resources [PaEN]

-- Agriculture Budget Testimony: Budget Proposal Supports Agriculture Economy; Land & Water Stewardship; Organic Farming; Helps Deal With Threats To Food System  [PaEN]

-- Budget Refresher: Hearings Start March 21 For DCNR, DEP, Agriculture FY 2023-24 Budget Requests

[Posted: March 21, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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