Corbett Order Outlines Ground Rules For Leasing Additional DCNR Land For Drilling
Gov. Tom Corbett Friday issued Executive Order 2014-3 outlining the ground rules for leasing additional DCNR State Forest and State Park lands for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, but only if it would not result in additional long-term surface disturbance.
The order supports the governor’s budget proposal to generate $75 million to help meet critical priorities.
Limited leasing will allow natural gas to be extracted from deep beneath the surface only when there will be no additional long-term disturbance on state forest and park lands. The order will only allow gas to be extracted horizontally through wells located on adjacent private lands or previously leased areas of the state forest.
Royalties or other payments resulting from any leasing under this Executive Order is required by the Order to be used by DCNR to--
-- repair and improve upon the infrastructure and amenities of the state forest and state park systems;
-- prioritize and acquire high-value in-holding lands, indentures and areas of high conservation value or ecological importance; and
-- prioritize and acquire privately-owned oil, natural gas, and other mineral rights underlying high-value surface lands owned by DCNR.
The Governor’s Budget Office and DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti said the Enhance Penn’s Woods initiative and the FY 2014-15 budget proposal does not rely on any revenues generated from additional natural gas leasing.
“With this executive order, I am directing that the Commonwealth maintain a moratorium on any additional gas leasing of DCNR lands that involves long-term surface disturbance, such as placing well pads, roads or pipelines in the newly-leased areas,” Corbett said. “This balanced approach will ensure that the special characteristics and habitats of DCNR lands are conserved and protected, and will also provide for historic investments in conservation programs, our schools and quality health care, without raising taxes on Pennsylvanians.”
The governor noted that specific areas and acreage will be analyzed by reviewing interest from oil and gas operators who can access the gas through horizontal drilling without additional disturbance on the surface of DCNR lands.
“Future royalties from these leases will be dedicated to expanding our system by acquiring lands with high conservation value and ecological importance, purchasing privately-held subsurface rights for existing DCNR lands and improving state parks and forests,” Corbett said.
“The Commonwealth’s state forest system has been certified as ‘well-managed’ longer than any other in the country, and continues to receive that distinction after five years of gas development in the Marcellus shale formation,” DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti said. “I am confident that DCNR can continue to manage our system for a variety of uses and values, including ecological integrity, outdoor recreation and the environmentally sound extraction of underground resources.”
Since the Governor’s budget proposal in February, DCNR staff have made presentations for and answered questions from the department’s citizens and natural gas advisory committees, as well as environmental organizations. Click Here for a Q/A prepared by DCNR.
In April, DCNR released its first report on the impacts of drilling on 137,000 acres of State Forest land authorized by the Rendell Administration.
Gov. Corbett’s budget also includes the initiative Enhance Penn’s Woods, a 2-year, more than $200 million investment in improving state parks and forests that is the largest funding commitment for this purpose in Commonwealth history.
“Pennsylvania is home to a world-class state park and forest system, and my proposed budget gives an historic boost to conservation and protection of our natural resources,” Corbett said.
Corbett noted that since 2011, Pennsylvania has added almost 8,000 acres to its state park and forest system. Enhance Penn’s Woods would provide funding for an additional 20,000 acres.
The text of the Executive Order 2014-03 follows—
WHEREAS, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is the state agency charged with ensuring the stewardship and protection of state forest and state park lands for the benefit of all citizens; and
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania is home to a world-class state forest and state park system, comprising over 2.2 million acres of state forest land and 200,000 acres of state park land contained within 120 state park and conservation areas; and
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania’s award-winning state parks provide opportunities to enjoy healthful outdoor recreation and serve as classrooms for environmental education in a setting where natural, scenic, aesthetic and historical values are preserved for current and future generations while hosting 38 million visitors annually, contributing $1.2 billion annually to the commonwealth’s economy and providing more than 13,000 jobs; and
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania’s state forest system is managed for a variety of uses and values, including ecological integrity; wild character; drinking water supply protection; recreation; plant and animal habitat; high-quality timber; and the environmentally sound utilization of mineral resources; and
WHEREAS, the international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has developed a set of principles and criteria that apply to FSC-certified forests around the world, and FSC forest-management certification confirms that a specific area of forest is being managed in accordance with the FSC principles and criteria; and
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania’s state forest system has been independently certified to be in adherence with the gold standard for environmentally and socially responsible forestry established by the FSC, and Pennsylvania’s state forest system has been FSC-certified longer than any other state forest system in the United States; and
WHEREAS, in December 2012, after five years of natural gas development in the Marcellus shale formation, the Rainforest Alliance’s annual audit of Pennsylvania’s conformance with the FSC certification found that certification requirements are being met and recommended maintenance of certification; and
WHEREAS, an independent review of Pennsylvania’s state forest system in 2013 by Scientific Certification Systems, a certification body accredited by the FSC, recommended that Pennsylvania’s state forest system be awarded FSC certification as a “Well Managed Forest”; and
WHEREAS, the Conservation and Natural Resources Act (Act of June 28, 1995, P.L. 89, No. 18) authorizes DCNR to enter into leases for the disposition of oil and natural gas when doing so would be in the best interests of the commonwealth; and
WHEREAS, DCNR has the responsibility and expertise to approach shale gas development in a way that efficiently utilizes Commonwealth energy resources while balancing the many uses, values and overall sustainability of the state parks and state forest system; and
WHEREAS, the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, in accordance with Executive Order 2011-01, unanimously adopted a report and accompanying recommendations on the safe and responsible development of unconventional shale gas resources, and the Commission recommended that any future leasing of state forest land should be limited to agreements which result in no or minimal surface impact to commonwealth-owned land; and
WHEREAS, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted the 2012 Oil and Gas Act (Act of Feb. 14, 2012, P.L. 87, No. 13) (Act 13), which significantly enhanced the environmental protection standards for shale gas resource development in the Commonwealth, including new protections for rivers, streams, water wells and public water supplies, well site inspection and enforcement, public notice and information sharing, remediation standards, and other enhancements; and
WHEREAS, Article 1, Section 27 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania, recognizes the right of citizens to clean water and pure air and establishes the Commonwealth’s duty to conserve and maintain Pennsylvania’s public natural resources for the benefit of all the people; and
WHEREAS, Executive Order 2010-05, Leasing of State Forest and State Park Land for Oil and Gas Development issued by Gov. Edward G. Rendell on October 26, 2010 ordered that no lands owned and managed by DCNR shall be leased for oil and gas development; and
WHEREAS, oil and natural gas development which results in no additional surface disturbance to state park and forest lands managed by DCNR is consistent with ensuring the stewardship and protection of such lands for the benefit of all the citizens, and with the requirements of Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Tom Corbett, 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:
1. DCNR Oil and Gas Leasing. As of the date of this Executive Order, no state forest or state park land may be leased for oil and natural gas development which would result in additional surface disturbance on state forest or state park lands.
2. Use of Oil and Gas Royalty Revenue to Buy Oil and Gas and Other Mineral Rights and to Provide Improvements in State Parks and State Forests. DCNR shall seek, in accordance with applicable laws, to utilize the royalty revenue generated from oil and natural gas leasing and development to:
a. repair and improve upon the infrastructure and amenities of the state forest and state park systems;
b. prioritize and acquire high-value in-holding lands, indentures and areas of high conservation value or ecological importance; and
c. prioritize and acquire privately-owned oil, natural gas, and other mineral rights underlying high-value surface lands owned by DCNR.
3. Effective Date. This Executive Order shall take effect immediately.
4. Termination Date. This Executive Order shall remain in effect until amended or rescinded by the Governor.
5. Rescission. Effective immediately, Executive Order 2010-05 is hereby rescinded.
Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said "With the new Executive Order today, Gov. Corbett has rescinded the previous policy of no further leasing of state lands for oil and natural gas development and has made a decision that more state land can now be leased.
“A major concern of mine with the new Executive Order is that it seems to open the door for unconventional drilling near and under our state parks. I challenged the wisdom of this policy change during our Senate budget hearings and it is something that I will be paying close attention to moving forward. There should be more public involvement too."
"To that end, I have introduced legislation-- Senate Bill 941-- that would require the department to hold at least one public hearing before a new lease is executed.
“While I appreciate the governor's effort to have this new policy enacted in such a way that it minimizes surface disturbance on state lands, I still have many questions as to what state lands would now be eligible for leasing and the number of acres involved.
“I also question the governor's primary reason for doing this which is to raise revenue to balance the budget. I believe a better way to raise that revenue would be to enact a fair and reasonable severance tax on the gas industry."
Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said "While the Corbett administration will claim this so-called 'zero surface disturbance' plan will not harm our state parks and forests, the damage has been done and will continue to be done as horizontal drilling occurs.
"This drilling will be done under fragile ecosystems and habitats for rare and endangered species. We need to protect this land for future generations. This is something the public does not support and is something Gov. Corbett's own DCNR acknowledges as negative.
"The timing of Governor Corbett's announcement, on a late Friday afternoon before the Memorial Day weekend when the public is not paying attention, is appalling. And it is consistent with his total lack of transparency where drilling is concerned. He is fighting transparency and protection of our forests every step of the way."
(Read a related story about Rep. Vitali’s request for more information about the drilling proposal from DCNR through the PA Open Records Office.)
Some Environmental Groups React
Representatives of eight environmental groups-- Joanne Kilgour, director, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, David Masur, executive director, PennEnvironment, Josh McNeil, executive director, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, Curt Ashenfelter, executive director, Keystone Trails Association, Nathan Sooy, Clean Water Action, Ron Evans, president, Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation, Philip S. Wallis, executive director, Audubon Pennsylvania and Cindy Dunn, president and CEO, PennFuture issued the following statement on the Executive Order--
“Gov. Tom Corbett’s decision to lift a three-year-old moratorium to expand leasing of public lands for gas development underscores the short-sighted nature of his stewardship of our natural resources. In place of the 2010 moratorium, the governor today signed a new executive order that would allow new leasing that would not “result in additional surface disturbance on state forest or state park lands.”
“The governor's suggestion that this new leasing would have “no long term surface disturbances” belies reality because many types of gas development activities will have significant impacts on Pennsylvania's public lands even though they may not constitute “surface disturbance” (a term not defined in the new executive order).
“In February, the Corbett administration said that any new drilling would be “non-impact drilling. The executive order he has signed acknowledges that impacts will occur. However the Governor chooses to couch it, the bottom line is that expanded drilling under public lands will create more air pollution, more truck traffic, more water withdrawals, more toxic waste water, and more risk of accidents like the recent well explosion in Greene County and this week's explosion in Butler County.
“The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ recently released Marcellus monitoring report confirmed that drilling is already harming our state forests and highlights the need to keep the moratorium on further leasing in place. The impacts to date -- with less than 20 percent of the anticipated 3,000 wells yet to be drilled – already points to a significant diminishing of core forest resources including wildlife, air quality, water, and the public's right to enjoyment and recreation of these lands and the economic benefits that accrue.
“Pennsylvania’s public lands are held in the public trust and we cannot simply sell their rights to the highest bidder. Our state parks and forests should be an oasis for wildlife and for recreation -- not an ATM during budget season.”
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