Harrisburg, PA – Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn today announced the release of the department’s second Shale Gas Monitoring Report that outlines its efforts to track, detect, and report on the impacts of gas development on Pennsylvania’s state forest lands.
“Ensuring sound management of our state forests and park lands is one of the ways DCNR carries out the responsibility as trustee of the commonwealth’s natural resources,” Dunn said. “Using science to monitor how we manage our lands, specifically related to gas development, is an important way to assess the impacts of this activity, and adapt management practices to minimize those impacts to our state forests.”
The report was released during a presentation today to the Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council.
Some insights from the report:
• Gas development on state forest lands has slowed considerably since the first monitoring report in 2014, due largely to market forces and a moratorium on new leasing which has been informally in place since 2010 and was formalized by Executive Order in 2015. Many leased tracts are only built out by about 30 to 35 percent.
• While shale gas infrastructure can result in improved access to forest interior, it can also conflict with the expectations of visitors who seek more primitive, undeveloped experiences undisrupted by industrial development.
• Invasive plants are of increasing concern as their presence and quantities are on the rise. Disturbed sites are ideal for the establishment of invasive plants that often emerge early in the spring and outcompete native plants through their rapid reproduction. Monitoring for invasive species and prioritizing the control of these plants based on the species and population size will continue, and strong governing lease provisions require operators to survey and treat invasive species.
• Water quality monitoring efforts by the bureau and its partners have not raised significant concerns on state forest headwater streams to date, however these results are still relatively short-term.
• Through planning and careful siting, forest fragmentation has been minimized. Those efforts need to continue as development proceeds on existing leases or where mineral rights are not owned by the commonwealth.
The department’s shale gas monitoring program began in 2011 and continues with a 15-member monitoring team. DCNR monitors repeated measurements over time to determine trends or patterns. The report notes that while certain trends can begin to be identified after eight years, natural resource monitoring is a long-term endeavor, and it may take longer to discern other trends in resource change and conditions, particularly if development under existing leases intensifies.
Of the state’s 2.2-million-acre system, there are approximately 600,500 acres of state forest land available for gas development, either through historic DCNR-issued leases, or on areas where the commonwealth does not own the subsurface rights.