Order Bans Leases Requiring New Surface Disturbances to Protect Pristine Nature of Publicly Owned Forests
HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct. 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Governor Edward G. Rendell today signed an executive order protecting Pennsylvania's state forests from any new natural gas development activities that would disturb the surface of these areas and jeopardize fragile ecosystems.
The Governor said a recent and extensive evaluation of the state forest system conducted by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources over a period of seven months found that any additional leases could endanger the environmental quality and character of these tracts and pose a risk to Pennsylvania's existing certification that it manages its forests in a sustainable manner, which is important for the state's nearly $6 billion forest products industry.
Governor Rendell added the executive order was necessary now given the state Senate's failure to act on House Bill 2235, which would have instituted a moratorium on state forest land leases. The legislation passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in early May, but was ignored by the Senate.
"Drilling companies' rush to grab private lands across the state has left few areas untouched by this widespread industrial activity," said Governor Rendell. "We need to protect our un-leased public lands from this rush because they are the most significant tracts of undisturbed forest remaining in the state. The House led the way to protect these lands, but the Senate failed to do so. That's why it's clear we need this executive order.
"Failing to protect these acres will significantly alter the ecological integrity and the wild character of our state forest system. That would devastate our ecotourism industry and jeopardize the green certification upon which the state's forest products industry depends."
Currently, 700,000 acres of Pennsylvania's 2.2 million-acre state forest are available for natural gas extraction. When completely developed over the next 30 years, these leased lands will include about 1,000 well pads and as many as 10,000 wells, which, along with the associated roadways and infrastructure, could disturb as much as 30,000 acres of the land already under lease.
Approximately 1.5 million acres of state forest lands sits atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation. The remaining 800,000 acres that have not been made available for natural gas development contain significant environmental, eco-tourism, and recreational values, including:
- 180,000 acres of high-value ecosystems designated as wild and natural areas;
- 200,000 acres of old-growth forests;
- 128,000 acres with sensitive environmental resources (wetlands, riparian areas, threatened and endangered species, steep slopes, unique habitats) and valuable recreational resources (scenic vistas and viewsheds, trails, leased camps);
- 299,000 acres in remote areas generally inaccessible by motorized vehicles and offering wilderness experiences paralleling those in the western United States;
- 88,000 acres of highly valued recreational and water resources in the Poconos in close proximity to many residents; and
- 20,000 acres important to ecotourism in the Laurel Highlands region.
"The moratorium is important to the state's economy because it protects some of our most valuable assets," said Governor Rendell. "Countless people enjoy our state forests for recreation, which draws tourism dollars into the state, and our lumber industry needs the assurance of knowing we're going to responsibly manage these resources to protect jobs in that industry.
"After I sign this order into effect, it should remain in place. The stewardship of the public's forests demands no less," added the Governor. "We simply cannot risk subjecting these sensitive and high-value tracts to the same kind of environmental accidents and mishaps that have happened on private lands elsewhere in the state because of the drilling industry's poor practices."
For more information, visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us.
Gary Tuma, 717-783-1116
Chris Novak, DCNR; 717-772-9101
Editor's Note: The text of the Governor's executive order follows:
Subject: Leasing of State Forest and State Park Land for Oil and Gas Development
Date: Oct. 26, 2010
By Direction of: Edward G. Rendell, Governor
WHEREAS, the commonwealth owns more than 2.4 million acres of state forest and state park land containing some of Pennsylvania's most precious and rare natural resources, including wild and natural areas, old growth forests, pristine streams, scenic vistas, and river gorges; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has a duty pursuant to the Conservation and Natural Resources Act (Act of June 28, 1995, P.L. 89, No. 18) to conserve and maintain state forests and state parks for the use and benefit of all its citizens as guaranteed by Section 27 of Article I of the Constitution of Pennsylvania; and
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania's state forest system has been certified through an independent scientific review to be compliant with the gold standard for environmentally and socially responsible forestry established by the international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and this certification is vital to the economic viability of the forest products industry in Pennsylvania; and
WHEREAS, more than 700,000 acres of the state forest and state park land are currently subject to oil and gas development, including development in the Marcellus shale formation, either through leases executed with the commonwealth or through private ownership or leasing where the commonwealth does not own the subsurface oil and gas; and
WHEREAS, the approximately 800,000 acres of state forest land that are currently not available for development of gas in the Marcellus shale formation contain significant environmental, eco-tourism, and recreational values, sometimes overlapping, including:
- 180,000 acres of high-value ecosystems designated as wild and natural areas;
- 200,000 acres of old growth forests;
- 128,000 acres with sensitive environmental resources (e.g., wetlands, riparian areas, threatened and endangered species, steep slopes, unique habitats) and valuable recreational resources (e.g., scenic vistas and viewsheds, trails, leased camps);
- 299,000 acres in remote areas generally inaccessible by motorized vehicles and offering wilderness experiences paralleling those in the Western United States;
- 88,000 acres of highly valued recreational and water resources in the Poconos in close proximity to many residents;
- 20,000 acres important to ecotourism in the Laurel Highlands region; and
WHEREAS, the advances in technology that have made development of gas in the Marcellus shale formation possible and profitable have led to a rapid and significant increase in the level of development activity on state forest and state park land; and
WHEREAS, in the next 10 to 20 years, full development of the gas in the Marcellus shale formation on state forest and state park land currently subject to drilling will result in the use of more than 30,000 acres for an estimated 1,100 well pads and associated infrastructure, access roads and pipelines; and
WHEREAS, the impact of the five-fold increase in the acreage of state forest and state park land that will be used for gas development as a result of activity in the Marcellus shale formation cannot be fully understood or predicted at this early stage of development; and
WHEREAS, additional gas development in the Marcellus shale formation on state forest and state park land will significantly increase openings in large blocks of currently contiguous forest canopies resulting in fragmentation and stress from invasive species and disease—the cumulative effect of which could fundamentally alter these forest ecosystems; and
WHEREAS, changes to surface and groundwater hydrology resulting from the increased drilling activity and the fracturing process required to develop gas in the Marcellus shale formation will need to be carefully monitored as drilling progresses to evaluate potential impacts; and
WHEREAS, additional leasing of state forest and state park land for oil and gas development will jeopardize DCNR's ability to fulfill its duty to conserve and maintain this public natural resource and sustain its FSC forest certification.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Edward G. Rendell, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and other laws, do hereby direct the following:
- DCNR Oil and Gas Leasing. As of the date of this Executive Order, to protect the lands of the commonwealth, no lands owned and managed by DCNR shall be leased for oil and gas development.
- Effective Date. This Executive Order shall be effective immediately.
SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor