DCNR: the agency balancing drilling and conservation interests
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.
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. In 2014, the department released a multi-year monitoring report analyzing how drilling is affecting state forests, and concluded that shale gas development is “neither benign nor catastrophic.”
In January 2015, Governor Tom Wolf nominated Cindy Dunn to serve as DCNR’s secretary. She was confirmed by the state senate in June.
She previously was the President and CEO of the statewide environmental advocacy group PennFuture. Before that, she spent 12 years at DCNR, working under three administrations. She started out as director of community relations under former governor Tom Ridge and was appointed deputy secretary under Rendell. She stayed in the job several years into the Corbett administration before leaving in October 2013 to lead PennFuture.
A decline in drilling amid low natural gas prices, and a moratorium on leasing of state land, have put a damper on its development in forests.