The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is considering a long-term plan for state forests that would allow more land to be leased for natural gas and oil development.

The draft Strategic Plan for State Forest Management was put together by DEC's Division of Lands and Forests, Bureau of State Land Management. The draft plan and generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) would guide the future management of the state's 786,329-acre state forest holdings. The state now has 132 active wells and 76 inactive wells on forest land, and the draft plan acknowledges that the Marcellus and Utica shales may increase interest in drilling for gas.

"Natural gas drilling has the potential to be a significant and growing source of development on state forest and private lands due to new technologies that enable industry to effectively extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale," the plan says. "DEC is inclined to consider natural gas development on state forests due in part to the fact it is a cleaner burning energy alternative to other fossil fuels."

The draft plan, now being reviewed by the public, only indicates DEC's willingness to lease forest land but it does not indicate that it would impose new rules. Separately the DEC is reviewing the state's gas drilling rules, and the Division of Lands and Forests said it would defer to DEC in regard to how development might move forward once a final development plan is in place.

"As with any other human activity on state lands, oil and natural gas exploration and development can impact the environment," noted the draft plan. "The biggest risks from natural gas exploration and development are potential impacts on underground aquifers and residential water wells in the immediate area of drilling. While techniques used today are far more advanced and protective of groundwater, there are still remote risks -- as with almost any construction or development project.

"The department will incorporate all available technologies and methods to reduce these risks. Emerging issues include disposal by injection and carbon capture. Neither of these activities is currently taking place on state forest lands."

If increased gas drilling is allowed on state forest lands, the draft plan proposes that DEC:

According to the DEC, about 30,200 net acres of royalty leases are held by oil and gas interests in state forests by producers that include Fortuna Energy Inc. and EOG Resources Inc. Another 15,400 net acres are considered "delay rental" leases in state forests and are held mostly by Chesapeake Energy Corp. unit Chesapeake Appalachia and Fortuna.

New York also has gas storage facilities sited in state forests on about 2,200 net acres near the towns of Collins, Cameron and Greenwood.

Comments on the proposed plan will be accepted through Oct. 29 by e-mail to stateforestplan@gw.dec.state.ny.us or sent to Strategic Plan for State Forest Management, NYS DEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4255.

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