Some Facts about Shale Development and Pennsylvania State Forests
In 2010, then-Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell enacted a moratorium on any new natural gas leases in state forests, although before the moratorium, the state had leased 700,000 acres of state forest land for development under Rendell. To put that into perspective, Pennsylvania’s total state forest acreage is around 2.4 million acres, with roughly 1.5 million acres sitting above the Marcellus Shale. Thus, the moratorium left around 800,000 acres within the Marcellus region unavailable for leasing.
Last month, Governor Tom Corbett signed an executive order lifting the moratorium on state forest land to allow resources to be extracted horizontally through wells located on adjacent private lands, or via previously leased forest acreage. The order is expected to generate $75 million for state coffers, and development could actually pay for improvements to state parks and forests through future royalties from leases. Despite these benefits, “ban fracking” activists have jumped on it as an opportunity to spread misinformation.
The Sierra Club, for example, has a petition: “Tell Governor Corbett no fracking in our state forests or parks.” Cindy Dunn, president of PennFuture, claimed the plan was a “disappointment” because it wasn’t based on the “sound management of the public trust.”
But in a recent report, Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Ellen Ferretti states, “The breadth and depth of this report demonstrates that shale gas production on state forests is being carefully managed.”
As noted above, natural gas development has existed on state lands for many years. In fact, according to DCNR: “Natural gas extraction has been a use of the state forest system since 1947.”
Long before “Marcellus” was a household word, conventional natural gas development was happening in Pennsylvania state forests. Through technological advances allowing for horizontal laterals and multistage hydraulic fracturing, we now have the ability to develop even more resources from a single well pad.
As with federal lands, Pennsylvania has focused on balance when it comes to state forests, placing a high priority on conservation, while also exploring ways to develop resources responsibly to create revenue and jobs for the commonwealth. From 1947 to 2008, Pennsylvania received over $153 million from leasing and royalties from the oil and gas industry alone. Since 2008, Marcellus Shale development on state land continues to be a huge revenue generator for Pennsylvania. According to DCNR:
“Approximately 429 wells have been drilled and are capable of producing natural gas. They have generated approximately $285 million in royalty revenue since 2008.”
It’s also worth stressing: Governor Corbett’s lifting of the moratorium does not allow new surface leases to take place on state land. The only surface development will take place on privately held land adjacent to the forests, or in areas already under lease. By developing these newly opened resources under state forests land, Pennsylvania will greatly benefit in the safe and responsible development of the Marcellus, while still preserving the land that sits above it.
The royalties gained from developing underneath the state forests will help Pennsylvania expand its state land system, a measure that should please conservationists. When lifting the moratorium, Gov. Corbett had this to say about the use of this new revenue stream.
“Future royalties from these leases will be dedicated to expanding our system by acquiring lands with high conservation value and ecological importance, purchasing privately-held subsurface rights for existing DCNR lands and improving state parks and forests.”
Despite proper safe guards and a plan to develop shale beneath state forests, which prohibits any development that would result in additional surface disturbance, activist groups are making a last ditch effort to stop any type of development.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation, for example, is asking the Commonwealth Court for an injunction against further leasing of state lands for natural gas development. Ironically, if successful, this action would cost the state millions of dollars’ worth of park upgrades, and prevent the acquisition of new lands with high conservation value, as Gov. Corbett stated.
In their push to halt further development Pennsylvania’s state lands, anti-fracking groups appear to be disregarding the facts about natural gas development, which has occurred in Pennsylvania’s state forests since Harry Truman was President.