Op-Ed: DCNR Shale Gas Monitoring Report Has Good Information, But Obfuscates Forest Policies
By John Childe, PA Environmental Defense Foundation
The DCNR Shale Gas Monitoring Report of July 2018 has a core of good scientific information from studies and research on the impacts to our state forest from shale gas extraction; but that good information is obfuscated and misdirected in the Report by policy determinations that are not in compliance, and even in direct contradiction, with the terms of Article I Section 27.
The Monitoring Report is constructed around the management objective to divide the state forest into the values and uses of the forest in place of the strategic objective adopted in 1995 to manage the forest as an ecosystem.
In 1995, when DCNR was created, DCNR replaced value management of the forest with management through ecosystem science. The stated purpose of the change was to insure the sustainability of the forest, and to be in compliance with the Article I Section 27 mandate to conserve and maintain the state forest for future generations.
The Supreme Court, in the recent opinion, PEDF v. Governor Wolf, 161 Pa. 3d 362, established the legal standard for determining compliance with the duty to conserve and maintain. That standard is that DCNR cannot make any decision or take any action that will degrade, diminish or deplete the public natural resource, in this case our state forest.
Determining, as stated in the 2018 Report, that shale gas extraction is one of the values of our state forest system is in direct contradiction with the standard of compliance of Article I Section 27 because shale gas extraction, as evidenced in the Report, degrades the ecosystem of our state forest.
Another of the values of the forest DCNR has just recently adopted is the extraction and sale of the natural oil and gas from our state forest for the economic benefit of private industry and for budgetary benefits of the Commonwealth.
There is nothing in Article I Section 27 that guarantees the oil and gas industry or the timber industry the right to make money from our public natural resources, including our state parks or forest, as is identified in the Report.
Nor is there any authority for the Commonwealth to use the money from the extraction and sale of our natural resources for budgetary purposes.
Another of the values that the Monitoring Report highlights is the use of the state forest for recreation.
The Report argues that the new and expanded access roads into the forest for the extraction and transportation of the gas and oil provides increased recreational access to the forest.
As the photos in the report illustrate, these roads create huge fragmentation corridors throughout the forest. Under ecosystem management recreation is approved for only low impact purposes.
There is nothing in Article I Section 27 that establishes recreational opportunities as a core measurement of compliance with the duties of the trustee to conserve and maintain our state forest.
The Report identifies maintaining the wild, primitive character of our state forest as a recreational use. It is not a recreational use. It is the core concept of managing the sustainability of our forest system through ecosystem science.
As the trustee of our State forest DCNR has the fiduciary duty to conserve and maintain the state forest for the benefit of all the people. That does not mean that each and every value or use of the forest is guaranteed by the Constitution.
It is the forest itself that is protected for the benefit of the people. The benefits to the people guaranteed by Section 27 include the right to clean air, pure water and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the forest.
These are the values that were meant to be conserved and maintained.
For more information on the Environmental Rights Amendment ongoing cases, visit the PA Environmental Defense Foundation website.
(Photo: State Forest well pad site showing the drilling pad, freshwater impoundment and storage pad from DCNR Shale Gas Monitoring Report (page 51).)
John Childe is an attorney with the PA Environmental Defense Foundation.
[Note: DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn released this statement in response to a PEDF letter in June raising concerns state forests were not being managed in ways consistent with the Environmental Rights Amendment--
“DCNR fully embraces its public trustee role, and has expanded public input opportunities to the forest district level.
“Both the district and statewide plans are designed to provide a framework for management decisions; and to communicate to citizens how their forest is being managed for different uses and values.
“This gives all Pennsylvanians an opportunity to participate, especially on the new sections in this plan such as climate change and protecting core forests.
“DCNR vehemently disagrees with PEDF’s position, and encourages all to read the plan and take advantage of these public meetings as an opportunity to help set management priorities, and meet the men and women who serve as trustees for the public forests.”]
[Posted: August 1, 2018]
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