PennEnvironment’s Latest State Forest Report Falls Short on Facts
PennEnvironment is at it again with the release of yet another flawed report, this time on the subject of natural gas development on state lands. From the image of a rig immersed in water that the group claimed was in Pennsylvania—the rig was actually located in Pakistan—to its recycling of discredited information this past July, PennEnvironment has shown again and again it won’t let facts get in the way of trying to stop natural gas development in Pennsylvania. Unsurprisingly, this most recent report is no exception.
This latest report looks at five areas across the state that the group believes will be harmed from development, but once again the group expects readers to swallow their assumptions based on faulty information.
Let’s take a closer look.
Assumption: “Despite all this, on May 23, 2014, Gov. Tom Corbett announced his decision to lift the four-year moratorium on further leasing of state forestland… Be it public lands under local, state or federal jurisdiction—from county parks, state parks and forests or parts of our national park service—drilling in these places will inevitably lead to the destruction of wild forests, the loss of essential habitat for native plants and wildlife” (page 2).
FACT: EID has looked at the lifting of the moratorium in more detail previously. Without even getting into the group’s doomsday description of development in state lands, the fact is that the executive order does not allow for surface development. This means all new leases would issue rights only to the subsurface, and all well pads would be placed outside of the boundaries of the forest.
Further, the “destruction” the group wants readers to believe will occur isn’t even close to a realistic outcome, even if surface leases were to be issued—if the current development in state lands is any indicator. More on that in just a moment.
Assumption: “And while the full-court press to open up public lands to fracking is just beginning, the effects have already been disastrous—pipelines dissect state forestlands; spills of toxic fracking waste water have polluted pristine streams that crisscross through public lands; Pennsylvania’s parks and forest threatened by drilling roads and well pads lead to run-off pollution in nearby forestlands; and massive amounts of truck traffic are creating air and noise pollution—all in what were once peaceful places where Pennsylvanians went to recreate and enjoy nature” (page 1).
FACT: This description is completely opposite of the reality that studies conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DCNR) have shown. According to DCNR’s Shale Gas Monitoring Report issued earlier this year, in addition to minimizing surface impacts, there has been no significant impact to water quality in the state forest system. It also describes:
- “Initial water monitoring results have not identified any significant impacts due to shale-gas development.” (p. 6)
- “This is based on one round of field chemistry sampling throughout the shale-gas region and over a year of operation for 10 continuous monitoring devices in key watersheds.” (p. 6)
- “There has been a marked decrease in several major air pollutants, such as sulfur, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide. This is due, in part, to the increased use of natural gas for power generation, the shutdown of several major facilities, and the installation of air pollution control equipment.” (p. 7)
- “Approximately 15 percent of all shale gas produced in Pennsylvania comes from state forest lands. This gas is sold and distributed across the eastern and Midwestern United States to service energy markets on a daily basis.” (p. 9)
- “Immediately placing a moratorium on oil and gas leasing, and other fracking-related activities in our state parks, forests and other public lands;
- Prohibit drilling activities from occurring with in 5,000 feet, from any state forest or park land boundaries” (page 13)
FACT: The report implies that a new moratorium on leasing in state forests would prevent natural gas development of any kind within them, and property law can be ignored to accomplish this. Not a single one of the examples of public lands used in the report would be impacted by a new moratorium on leasing, nor were they included in the previous moratorium enacted by Governor Rendell. Pennsylvania’s current energy executive and Governor Corbett’s deputy chief of staff, Patrick Henderson, explained this in a recent Times Leader article. Here’s a bit more explanation of why the chosen examples wouldn’t be impacted by a moratorium on leasing.
- Loyalsock State Forest and Ohiopyle State Park, as is much of the public land in the Commonwealth, are part of what is known as a split estate. This means that while Pennsylvania (or in some cases the United States) owns the surface of these areas, another person or entity owns the mineral or subsurface rights. In Pennsylvania, a surface owner can be compensated for any surface activity, but cannot by law prevent mineral owners from developing their resources on or nearby the surface property. Because of this split estate scenario, a moratorium would not include these locations.
- The Delaware Water Gap would also not be included in a moratorium on leasing, according to Henderson. Currently, because of the actions of the Delaware River Basin Commission, no natural gas development of any kind can occur within the commissions regulatory territory, and this includes the Gap.
- Deer Lakes Park and Cross Creeks County Park are both county parks, which would not fall under a moratorium of leasing on state owned public lands. These parks were not included in the previous moratorium either, and any development occurring within them was agreed to by the county.
PennEnvironment has little regard for property rights in its recommendations. Not only would placing 5000 foot setbacks from state forest lands impact split estate ownerships, but these would also infringe upon private property roughly a mile around the land.
One of the groups most impacted by such a drastic regulation would be local hunting camps, which have some of the most detailed and environmentally protective lease agreements in the state. The Elbow Hunt Club is one such example, as can be seen in the following video.
- “All Pennsylvania’s public land should be managed under the precautionary principle: management decisions should prevent any potentially negative impacts.
- Designating ecologically-sensitive areas—on both public and private lands—as off limits to fracking. This may include areas that are important habitat for threatened or endangered species, supply drinking water to downstream communities, or threatened and sensitive ecosystems such as wetlands;
- Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) must be required for any proposed extractive practices in our public lands—be they local, state or federal lands. Currently, Environmental Impact Studies are not a required component of most intensive activities within the Commonwealth’s public lands—activities that could cause irreparable harm to these public lands” (page 13)
FACT: These statements make it appear as if current management and regulations are not adequate for protecting the state forests. DCNR has been regulating and managing oil and gas operations in Pennsylvania’s state forests since 1947. This long history of managing the state’s resources has paid off, too. According to DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti, in reference to the 2014 DCNR’s Shale Gas Monitoring Report, “shale gas production on state forests is being carefully managed.”
And to address PennEnvironment’s concerns over sensitive areas within the state forests, the DCNR report says:
“Modern shale-gas leases restrict surface disturbance in sensitive areas and limit overall surface disturbance to approximately 2 percent of the acreage within the lease tract.” (Shale-Gas Monitoring Report, p. 3)
DCNR clearly describes how it accomplishes this, including environmental impact reviews, on its website:
Avoid: Through early and comprehensive planning the Bureau utilizes a landscape-level perspective for the placement and location of infrastructure, to avoid impacting ecological or recreational resources. For example, the Bureau manages the gas activity on a large tract level (which includes multiple well pads, pipelines and roads), rather than a piecemeal approach (e.g., well pad by well pad). This permits the Bureau to identify known sensitive areas (ecological, recreational, etc.) and strictly limit or prohibit surface disturbances within them. When feasible, existing disturbed areas such as roads or pipeline right-of-way corridors are used for the placement of infrastructure associated with natural gas. This reduces the need to clear additional areas of State Forest lands, thereby limiting fragmentation and additional land conversion.
Minimize: Each activity on State Forest lands goes through a review process to minimize potential impacts to plant and animal species, habitats, or recreational resources, when avoidance is not a suitable option. Bureau of Forestry staff work to minimize potential adverse impacts to resources and values by appropriately buffering them or by incorporating techniques such as timing restrictions. Buffers range from 200-600 feet and are applied to resources which include buildings, streams, wetlands, streams, Threatened & Endangered Species and Wild and Natural Areas.
Mitigate: After disturbance activities conclude, mitigation will be necessary to offset adverse impacts to forests. Mitigation can be accomplished in several ways—but always must comply with state erosion and sedimentation control requirements. Mitigation opportunities include but are not limited to: restoration back to forest; reclamation by planting native plant species; plant and animal species habitat enhancements; or invasive species removal. The goal is to restore the site to a condition that can support a functional and self-sustainable natural community.
Monitor: Since the arrival of Marcellus shale development, the Bureau’s focus has been on the development of guidelines and procedures which are consistent with its ecosystem management approach. As the infrastructure is built, monitoring is necessary to document both positive and negative changes to State Forest lands. Monitoring efforts will focus on plants, wildlife, water resources, social, and recreational values. More specifically, monitoring will include detecting changes, tracking activities, reporting on the findings, and modifying practices where applicable. The monitoring program will be used to identify impacts to State Forest lands and facilitate adaptive management that addresses those changes.
Clearly, surface use agreements, which are issued in split estate situations like the Loyalsock, are not something the DCNR enters into without thought or consideration for the best approaches to safely developing these resources.
Assumption: “Public input should be required for all decisions regarding extractive practices within our public lands. Currently, most decisions made about Pennsylvania’s public lands do not include a process for public input” (page 13)
FACT: The public has had the opportunity to provide input, even on some of the examples used in the report. EID attended the public meetings leading up to the county’s decision to allow surface use of Deer Lakes Park. We wrote about them here and again when the decision was made after five months of deliberation. Despite PennEnvironment’s writing to the contrary, the agreement has been deemed one of the most comprehensive surface use agreements in the state.
DCNR also held a public hearing for the Loyalsock State Forest last year in regards to a split estate situation where two companies own the mineral rights and the state owns the surface. In addition to this hearing, the state agency also met with local environmental group leaders to listen to their concerns and held a public comment period on its new version of its normal surface usage agreement. The Surface Development Management Agreement goes even further in its requirements for assessments and environmental impact studies for this circumstance. Negotiations have been ongoing for nearly two years for this agreement.
Oil and natural gas development has been occurring safely in Pennsylvania’s state forests since Harry Truman was President. Even with the increase in activity thanks to the Marcellus Shale, impacts are manageable and continue to be regulated to ensure best management practices that will not only protect, but actually enhance these beautiful areas of the Commonwealth.
PennEnvironment once again ignored these facts to push its agenda. The organization certainly has a right to do so, but – more importantly – the broader public also has a right to accurate information about development.