Budget Hearing: DCNR To Release Monitoring Report On State Forest Drilling By Early Summer
DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn Thursday told the House Appropriations Committee her agency will release its next report documenting the environmental impacts of drilling on state forest land by early summer.
The first report released in April 2014 by the Corbett Administration, documented impacts to infrastructure, flora, forest health, invasive species, water, soil, air, incidents, fauna, recreation, community engagement, timber, energy, revenue and forest landscapes from drilling starting in 2008 through 2012. The reports are being done every five years.
Secretary Dunn said while Gov. Wolf’s moratorium on new natural gas drilling is still in effect, the build out of well pads and the infrastructure to support the existing drilling leases continues.
She noted the new report will show the build out of 30 to 40 percent of the drilling leases, but much of the development since the last report has been ancillary structures like pipelines and compressor stations.
The 2014 report found 1,486 acres of state forest land was converted to facilitate gas development over the 385,400 acres of land leased for natural gas drilling. All the drilling leases were signed before 2011 in the Rendell Administration.
DCNR also noted in the 2014 report that even with shale gas development, state forests retained the Forest Stewardship Council sustainable forest certification. State forests maintain that certification today.
Secretary Dunn said there have been 653 wells drilled on the state forest leases and DCNR is collecting royalties from the 633 producing wells. This year they expect revenues of $80 million from the leases and next year about $79 million.
The revenue is deposited in DCNR’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund, but is used to pay for state park and state forest operations or transferred to other funds to use for other purposes.
Click Here for a copy of Secretary Dunn’s written budget testimony.
Questions from House members at the hearing brought up familiar issues, duplicating most of the questions asked at last year’s budget hearing. Here are some issues not brought up last year--
-- DCNR Special Funds: In response to a question from Rep. Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny), Minority Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Dunn explained special funds like the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund do not have unused monies in them. Fund monies are attached to projects as they are approved and need to be reserved to pay the costs of those projects. Many projects, she said, are completed over 3 or 4 years, but the money needs to be there when they are. Taking money out of these special funds is taking money away from these projects. She noted a recent Independent Fiscal Office report confirmed the way these monies are handled and noted there are no unused monies in those funds. (Click Here for more on this issue.) Dunn said DCNR will soon open a new portal for grantees to improve communications with the department and to better track grant completion progress.
-- General Fund Increase: Rep. Lee James (R-Butler) questioned why there was a significant increase in General Fund money proposed in the budget. Dunn explained less money was being transferred from the Oil and Gas Fund to pay DCNR’s operating expenses and that money is being made up by an increase in General Fund money.
-- Submerged Land Agreements: Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) asked why DCNR was still signing submerged land leases with pipeline and gas drilling companies when the Governor’s moratorium on natural gas leasing was in place. Dunn explained the leases were not for production, but, for example, allowing a drilling company to drill under a stream bed to connect to a lease the company owns on the other side of the stream.
-- How Do DCNR Grants Generate Jobs: Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-Delaware) asked if DCNR calculated how many jobs DCNR grants generate. Lauren Imgrund, DCNR Deputy Secretary for Conservation and Technical Services, said DCNR has invested over $350 million in 2,300 projects that have resulted in $700 million of economic impact in those communities. With respect to local parks, a National Recreation and Park Association report found the 6,000 local parks in Pennsylvania generated $1.6 billion in economic impact from capital expenditures and supported 12,500 jobs. The Heritage Areas Program investments have resulted in $2.3 billion in economic value added supporting 25,000 jobs. (Click Here for more on economic impacts.)
-- Efficiency Savings: Asked by Rep. Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks) for examples of where DCNR has improved efficiencies, Dunn said their Go-Time and sustainability initiatives, which includes building LEED certified buildings, purchasing electric vehicles and other measures are reducing operating costs. As an example, DCNR Deputy Secretary for Administration Michael Walsh said through guaranteed energy savings contracts, DCNR has invested $5.5 million and will save $7.5 million in energy costs.
Responding to another member’s question, Dunn said DCNR is part of a cluster of agencies-- DEP, Agriculture, Milk Marketing Board and the Environmental Hearing Board-- that now share human resources and information technology services.
-- Entry/Parking Fees: Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) suggested perhaps a parking or entrance fee, particularly for out-of-state residents, would help DCNR offset some of its costs. Dunn said DCNR has embraced the model of having no entrance fee so parks and forests are more available to all residents of the state. She noted DCNR-owned recreational facilities act as magnets for visitors and provide the local economy with significant benefits. Dunn said in talking to other states, the experience has been the number of visitors drops off when fees are introduced. She said there are more practical issues with an entrance fee and gave the example of Pymatuning State Park in Mercer County that has 27 different roads going through it.
-- Volunteers Are Critical: Rep. Keith Greiner (R-Lancaster) asked if DCNR engages volunteers to help state parks in any way. Dunn said DCNR could not do its job without volunteers. John Norbeck, DCNR Deputy Secretary for Parks and Forestry, said volunteers from the PA Parks and Forests Foundation and local “Friends” groups contribute over $3 million a year in service to parks and forests. DCNR also has its own Conservation Volunteer Program helping state parks and forests in a variety of ways. Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York), Majority Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, invited Dunn to develop an article legislators could use in their newsletters to tell their constituents about the volunteer opportunities.
-- Spotted Lanternfly: In response to a question from Rep. Susan Helm (R-Dauphin) about the spotted lanternfly, Dunn said DCNR is working closely with the Department of Agriculture on the issue. This year, she said, DCNR transferred $340,000 from the Environmental Stewardship Fund to Agriculture to help in their efforts, in addition to providing technical and research support through DCNR’s Forest Pest Division. She noted this is just one of the forest pests DCNR deals with, the others being the emerald ash borer, gypsy moth and woolly adelgid.
-- Gypsy Moths: Prompted by a question from Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Lackawanna), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, John Norbeck said the gypsy moth population should be declining this year, but DCNR staff is now making an assessment of the population and will have a better idea of the threat later this spring. Dunn noted $2 million from the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund is used to spray for gypsy moths.
Click Here for a copy of Secretary Dunn’s budget testimony.
Click Here for copies of testimony and video of House Appropriations Committee budget hearings and the complete hearing schedule.
[Posted: Feb. 23, 2018]
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