The Sierra Club alleges in a letter to the National Park Service (NPS) that Pennsylvania is violating federal law by allowing natural gas drilling on protected state park and forest land.
The environmental group said Pennsylvania should halt all drilling and permitting in state parks and forests until it complies with the Land and Water Conservation Act. The law, which was enacted in the 1960s, requires states that receive NPS funds to buy parklands for recreation to scrutinize any proposed activity that could disturb the land. According to the NPS, Pennsylvania has received a total of $162 million to buy property for recreation, including $1.2 million last year.
"Our attorneys have reviewed documentation provided by the state and have come to the conclusion that it is not complying with the Land and Water Act," said Jeff Schmidt, executive director of the Sierra Club's Pennsylvania chapter. "We are asking the state to halt its activities and the National Park Service to conduct a review."
The NPS said it would determine if the parklands referred to by the Sierra Club were purchased in whole or in part using Land and Water Conservation Act funds. An NPS spokesman said when states accept parklands money "there is a string attached" that requires the parkland to remain open for recreation purposes "in perpetuity."
The Sierra Club is contending that Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the state's Department of Environmental Protection are not adequately analyzing natural gas drilling permits.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell last October banned oil and gas leasing on state forest land owned and managed by the state and two days later the state implemented more stringent environmental reviews for developing state parkland (see Shale Daily, Oct. 29, 2010; Oct. 27, 2010). The policy was rescinded in February after Gov. Tom Corbett came into office (see Shale Daily, Feb. 23).
A DCNR spokeswoman said the department is reviewing the Sierra Club's allegations. The state allows no drilling on about 295,000 acres of state park and forest land, which is set aside for public recreation. In addition, private landowners own about 80% of the mineral rights under state park land and may lease access to drillers.