Bay Journal

Wolf makes state forests, parks, off-limits to new drilling

  • By Karl Blankenship on February 01, 2015

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed a moratorium on new drilling on state park and forest lands in the state, halting an effort by his predecessor to open natural gas reserves found under parts of the state’s public lands to extraction.

In an executive order issued Jan. 29, Wolf cited concerns expressed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources that opening additional lands to drilling would jeopardize its ability to protect water quality, wildlife and other resources.

The state has more than 2.2 million acres in its state forest system, of which more than 673,000 acres is already open to oil and gas drilling, but DCNR officials have expressed concern about the impact of opening additional lands to drilling and related activities, such as increased heavy truck traffic; land clearing and pipeline construction; diminished recreational opportunities; diminished scenic vistas; impacts on plant and animal habitats; and reduced forest harvests.

A similar moratorium had been enacted at the end of former Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration, but his successor, Gov. Tom Corbett, replaced the moratorium in May 2014 with a policy that allowed more extraction from under state lands if it was accessed through horizontal drilling from adjacent lands — something that could increase development in areas immediately surrounding the public lands as well as increase traffic through forests.

Corbett had hoped that royalties from such drilling would help with state budget shortfalls.

“Natural gas development is vital to Pennsylvania’s economy, but so is the economic and environmental viability of our parks and forests,” Wolf said. “This is about striking the right balance. Our state parks and forests are unique assets that should be preserved, protected and utilized by our residents for recreational purposes.”

“Our parks host 38 million visitors annually, support over 13,000 jobs, and provide $1.2 million to the state’s economy,” Wolf said. “We should be looking for opportunities to grow our recreational and tourism economy through a revitalized parks and forest system that ensures we are preserving our natural resources and protecting our people and the environment.”

Environmentalists overwhelming praised the action.

“Pennsylvania’s forests and our natural landscapes provide real and measurable benefits well beyond vistas,” said Harry Campbell, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Pennsylvania executive director. “Forests provide natural flood control, clean the air, keep drinking water sources clean and support a number of important industries.

But Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, sharply criticized the action. “This deeply misguide and purely political action to unnecessarily ban the safe and tightly regulated development of natural gas from beneath taxpayer-owned lands flies in the face of common sense,” he said.

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About Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and Executive Director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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