“Sadly, politicians from both sides of the aisle—Democrats and Republicans alike– have used their positions of power to press for opening up these public lands,” says Lina Blount, a field associate with PennEnvironment.
In a telephone conference call with reporters, John Norbeck, Vice President of the environmental group PennFuture, said the lands should be preserved for future generations. He previously served as the director of Parks and Forestry for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
“The industrialization of our parks is simply contrary to that notion,” he said. “Land disturbance including noise, air, and water pollution is not conducive to good public land management.”
Nearly a third of Pennsylvania’s 2.2 million acres of forest land is already available for oil and gas drilling. The report outlines threats to five areas of public land: Loyalsock State Forest, Ohiopyle State Park, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Deer Lakes Park in Allegheny County, and Cross Creek County Park in Washington County.
Earlier this year, Governor Corbett overturned a state moratorium on new leasing in public parks and forests in an effort to raise $95 million for this year’s budget, but the move was challenged in court by an environmental group. It’s not clear if those leases will be implemented since that lawsuit is still pending.
Former Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, leased about 130,000 acres of land before instituting the moratorium in 2010 as he left office.
Governor-elect Tom Wolf has vowed to reinstate the moratorium.
But state Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) fears Wolf will face the same budgetary pressures Rendell did. Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office projects a $1.85 billion budget shortfall for next year.
“Things will get tense in May, June, and maybe July when we knock out this budget,” says Vitali. “As activists, we have to stand strong and remind the governor and others about not caving in.”
The gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, has praised Corbett’s efforts to expand forest drilling as a common-sense approach that will help the economy. Last spring DCNR released its first-ever monitoring report, outlining how gas drilling is affecting public land.
The agency said the gas boom has been “neither benign nor catastrophic” to forests.