DCNR questioned on plan to expand leasing of state park and forest land

    State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Ellen Ferretti says Governor Corbett’s proposal to expand leasing of state park and forest land for natural gas drilling will not result in any new surface disturbance.

     

    Ferretti answered questions this morning before the senate appropriations committee.

    “The proposal at hand is no new or additional surface disturbance and can only be done through existing or proposed well pads,” Ferretti said.

    In his 2014 budget proposal, Governor Corbett calls for new leasing of the state’s mineral rights for “non-impact drilling”. Corbett says he plans to issue a new executive order, under which gas companies would not be allowed to construct new well pads. Instead, they could lease new underground mineral rights near existing drilling sites or through private property adjacent to public land.

    The administration says the proposal could immediately raise $75 million through leasing with more coming later on as royalties.

    “We don’t have a list of where it will occur,” said Ferretti. “We’re taking proposals now.”

    Former Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, leased about 130,000 acres of state forest land before he instituted a moratorium on future leasing during his last year in office. Under his administration, DCNR also issued a study which concluded the state couldn’t lease any more land, without harming vulnerable or wild sections of state forests.

    “That study and all studies in the bureau are constantly being updated.” Ferretti told the senate panel. “We are constantly monitoring and studying the land. [The study] didn’t take into account horizontal non-surface disturbance drilling.”

    The new proposal would be the first leasing of state park lands, according to DCNR. Ferretti says the state owns about 80 percent of the mineral rights in state forests but only owns about 20 percent of the mineral rights in state parks.

    State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Chris Abruzzo says the governor’s plan will also prohibit new permitting of gas-related infrastructure including pipelines and compressor stations on public land.

    “It would not allow for any other structures,” he tells StateImpact Pennsylvania. “The surface above the park or the forest will not be touched. I didn’t draft the policy, but that’s how I’m interpreting it.”

    A number of environmental groups have criticized the proposal.

    Joanne Kilgour, director of the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter, says the concept of non-impact drilling is misleading.

    “There are impacts such as noise, light pollution, increased truck traffic, air pollution, leaks, spills and blowouts,” she says. “None of those things respect this artificial boundary between private land and land held in trust by the commonwealth.”

     

    This story was originally published on StateImpact Pennsylvania, a joint energy and environmental reporting project by WITF and WHYY.

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