Study Ignores Shale’s Positive Impact on Penn’s Woods in Search for Complaints
Although a recent study’s finding that shale gas development in Pennsylvania has had significant impacts on outdoor recreation is correct, the study’s implication that these impacts are negative couldn’t be further from the truth.
Like the logging, mining, and oil production that preceded it, natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale is a major source of revenue for state forests and game lands, as well as regional parks and conservation areas, providing millions in new funding over the past decade to improve trails, streams and roads.
The study reports few adverse impacts.
That isn’t what you hear from lead study author Michael Ferguson, a professor of recreation management at the University of New Hampshire, which sponsored the research with funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The way Ferguson describes it, one would think Pennsylvanians are camping amid active construction sites. In a statement released with the study, he tried to paint a picture of otherwise peaceful tent sites disrupted by bulldozers and pipeliners.
“[T]hose who love playing in the great outdoors are often encountering anything from heavy-duty truck traffic congestion to actual construction and drilling operations while recreating on public lands.”
In fact, the report found the opposite—that most people did not encounter any adverse shale gas impacts and fewer still thought that natural gas development impacted their outdoor recreation. The study states this quite plainly:
“This study found that only a small population of Pennsylvania outdoor recreationists were impacted by [shale gas development] related activities.”
Counted among these impacts was the simple act of “encountering” an activity related to shale gas development—which include access roads built by the industry, vehicle traffic, or just seeing a drilling site. Even with this broad definition, a minority of Pennsylvanians had encountered industry activity and fewer still were bothered by it. The study’s state-wide survey found only 23.4 percent of respondents had encountered shale gas development-related activities while enjoying the outdoors and only 13.8 percent had changed their behavior in any way because of it.
Huge benefits to the outdoors are ignored.
What the study leaves out are the many positive impacts oil and natural gas development has on Pennsylvania’s parks. Shale gas development is merely the latest example of how industry can work hand in hand with outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania.
State parks and forests are among the biggest beneficiaries of oil and natural gas production. Even though Gov. Tom Wolf halted new leasing of state land for drilling four years ago, royalties from existing leases pump more than $80 million annually into the state budget for DCNR (this study’s funder). And the state Game Commission continues to sign natural gas development leases, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars for conservation programs.
Additionally, some federal land management in the state – and the recreation that happens on it –benefits from energy development, particularly in Allegheny National Forest, where companies have responsibly leased land for decades.
Beyond leases and royalties, shale gas development generates more new revenue through the per-well impact fee paid by producers, which has raised $1.7 billion since 2012.
Last year, this impact fee generated a record $251.8 million in new revenue for communities and statewide conservation programs. Of this total, $89.8 million was transferred to the Marcellus Legacy Fund, a program that provides funding to DCNR and for grants that support environmental, highway, water and sewer projects throughout the state as well as to rehabilitate greenways.
The list of 500 “Greenways, Trail and Recreation” projects that have benefited from $64 million of this funding includes the very recreation activities this study claims are being impacted by shale development – trails, park systems and conservation projects in nearly every county in the Commonwealth.
Despite his ban on more state gas leasing, even Wolf acknowledges the positive impacts shale development is having on the outdoors:
“These projects will ensure that vital services are being provided to communities all across the commonwealth. From ensuring Pennsylvanians have access to clean water, to protecting communities from the devastating effects of flooding, to simply giving residents the chance to hike a new trail in their community, these projects will improve the quality of life for countless families and individuals across the commonwealth.”
The irony of this study is that many, many more Pennsylvanians likely saw these positive impacts of shale gas development than the very few who had negative encounters in the woods. After more than a decade of shale development, the benefits to not only Pennsylvania’s economy, but also its parks, forests, and trails are becoming more and more visible. Natural gas is indeed having an impact on outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania—it’s making it better.