Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pennsylvania's Forests And Drilling

Pennsylvania is still 60% Penn's Woods and 70% of the 17 million acres that are forested are in private hands.  Private landowners are the stewards of about 12 million acres and will continue to decide how their land is used.  Timbering, maple syrup, conservancies, and gas drilling are just a few of the many uses of forests in private hands. 

What are the forms of regulation of drilling on private lands?  Fundamentally there are two. First, zoning can impact whether drilling can occur at a given place. Second, state and federal regulations must be followed that apply to the whole drilling process from clearing land, to drilling the gas well, to fracking the well, to producing the gas.

In addition to the private forests, Pennsylvania  has about 5 million acres of forests that are owned by the public: federal government, state agencies like the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Game Commission, and others. How much drilling, whether drilling should take place, the use of funds from drilling are just some of the questions that the public and their elected representatives must decide for the public forests.

In the state forest system itself that DCNR oversees there are about 2.2 million acres with about 1.5 million above the Marcellus.  Approximately 700,000 acres of state forests over decades has been drilled to date.  Marcellus wells are now producing on state forest land.

The professional staff at DCNR in 2010 concluded that any further drilling would cause major ecological damage to sensitive, valuable parts of the forest.  A moratorium was recommended and Governor Rendell issued one through an Executive Order.  The moratorium remains in place for the state forests.

One major reason for the moratorium was the conclusion that the state forests certification for sustainability would be lost if more drilling took place.  The loss of that certification would destroy thousands of lumber industry jobs that rely on the certification in order to provide certified wood to their markets.  Indeed the Pennsylvania lumber industry supports 60,000 jobs.

Protecting the state forest has lots of value.

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