1.5 million acres of forest sit atop the Marcellus Shale formation, and DCNR has leased out 700,000 acres of it for drilling. (130,000 of those acres were auctioned off during Governor Ed Rendell’s administration, before the Democrat issued an executive order placing a moratorium on future leasing in the last year of his tenure.) A 2010 DCNR estimate predicts forests may host up to 1,000 well pads and 10,000 wells, once drilling is up to full capacity.
In his 2014 budget, Governor Corbett proposed expanding leasing of state forest and park land to raise $75 million. In May 2014, Governor Corbett issued a new executive order that will allow for more leasing of underground mineral rights, as long as the activity does not create a new surface disturbance. Environmental groups have criticized the idea.
61 state parks are also located within the Marcellus Shale. Unlike the forests, Pennsylvania does not own the mineral rights for the vast majority of land underneath state parks. That means if the private landowners want to lease out their land for drilling, DCNR is required to provide “reasonable access” to energy companies. (Surface and mineral rights are sold separately under Pennsylvania law.)
Drilling in state forests is regulated by DCNR guidelines, in order to minimize damage to wildlife and intrusion on recreational hiking and camping.
DCNR is headed by Secretary Ellen Ferretti. She took over for the former Secretary Richard Allan, who was fired by Corbett in June 2013. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Allan was let go for sending a racially charged email.
Ferretti has spent her career working on environmental issues in and out of government. She previously served as DCNR’s deputy secretary for parks and forestry.