Just two days after Gov. Ed Rendell placed a moratorium on drilling on state forest land, Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced a new policy requiring well operators working on state park and forest land to identify all areas of their tracts that will be disturbed by development activities.
The joint policy establishes clear procedures for evaluating the impacts of oil and gas drilling on state park and forest land as part of DEP's standard well-permitting process, the agencies said.
Based on well operators' identification of areas that will be disturbed by development activities, DCNR will recommend measures to minimize impacts. Impacts to be considered will include threatened and endangered species habitat, wildlife corridors, water resources, scenic viewsheds, public recreation areas, wetlands and floodplains, high-value trees and regeneration areas, steep slopes, pathways for invasive species, air quality, noise, and road placement and construction methods.
Well operators will be required to submit a DCNR Environmental Review to DEP as part of well permit applications. Applications that do not include sufficient information to allow DEP to consider the impacts on state park and forest lands will be considered incomplete, the agencies said. DCNR will provide a letter if it is in agreement on recommended response measures; if there is no agreement, DEP may address the concerns with permit conditions.
The policy is needed because Pennsylvania does not own the mineral rights to 80% of state park land and about 15% of state forest land, according to DCNR Secretary John Quigley, who said 60 state parks are located above the Marcellus Shale formation.
"To manage development of oil and gas drilling where the Commonwealth does not own the mineral rights, we needed a formal process in place to ensure that natural gas well operators properly coordinate with DCNR," DEP Secretary John Hanger said. "This will help us determine the impacts of proposed oil and gas wells on state parks and forests before they submit their well permit applications to DEP."
With access to Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale acreage at an increasing premium, state officials have been scrambling to find out who owns the subsurface rights to nearly 1.7 million acres of state game and park land (see Daily GPI, Aug. 30). The Pennsylvania Game Commission manages 1.4 million acres of game land and DCNR controls 283,000 acres of park land, but who owns the rights to any natural gas, oil or minerals that may be found beneath all of that acreage is not as easy to determine.
"Coordination is especially important on the areas of our state parks and forests where DCNR does not have the controls that would be put in place by a lease agreement," Quigley said.
On Tuesday Rendell signed an executive order placing an immediate ban on leases for oil and gas development on any land owned and managed by DCNR (see Shale Daily, Oct. 27). Approximately 700,000 acres of Pennsylvania's 2.2 million-acre state forests are currently available for natural gas extraction, Rendell said. DCNR has said there is no unleased state forest acreage suitable for natural gas development remaining in the Marcellus Shale area (see Daily GPI, Aug. 16).