As former secretaries of Pennsylvania’s departments of Conservation and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, we are pleased that Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget continues Pennsylvania’s historic commitment to our treasured state parks and forests that have served our citizens for generations.
His proposal to raise revenue through limited leasing of state land for natural gas extraction would be done in a way that prevents additional surface disturbance to these lands. With future royalties directed back into the parks and forests, and with a new commitment to provide more than $200 million for state park and forest infrastructure, the commonwealth is meeting one of its most important obligations — the conservation of our valued public lands.
Our state parks and forests offer outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities, protect special wildlife species and places and support local economies. Providing valuable resources like timber and natural gas always has been an important role and function of these lands as well.
Recent advances in technologies allow natural gas to be extracted from underneath lands up to a mile away using horizontal drilling. Gov. Corbett is proposing in his next budget limited leasing to allow natural gas to be extracted from deep beneath our state lands without allowing any additional disturbance on state parks and forests.
This no-surface impact drilling can be done by accessing the gas from adjacent private lands or from well pad sites which already exist or are planned under pre-existing leases. Future royalty payments would be invested back into the parks and forests for infrastructure improvements, land acquisition and the purchase of privately owned oil and gas rights. In state parks alone about 80 percent of the subsurface rights are held privately.
The governor will issue an executive order prohibiting the leasing of DCNR lands that would result in any additional disturbance to the surface of state forest or park land.
Some are skeptical about this new leasing program. We are not. As former secretaries of the two state agencies entrusted to care for our lands and waters, we know the employees of DCNR and DEP work tirelessly each day to be good stewards of the commonwealth’s natural resources. DCNR employees have been managing Marcellus gas drilling on state forest lands since 2008 and conventional drilling for decades.
Because of their stringent standards and professional management, the state forests have maintained their third-party certification as well-managed forests. These same employees — trained foresters, botanists, biologists and geologists — will make sure that “no surface activity” will mean just that. And they’ll be backed by an executive order that guarantees these protections.
Our parks and forests will greatly benefit from this additional infusion of money. Their valuable but aging infrastructure needs our attention. That’s why Gov. Corbett also is launching Enhance Penn’s Woods with $200 million in funding over two years — the largest-ever short-term investment in these lands — to fix our state park and forest roads, bridges, buildings, dams and more. Enhance Penn’s Woods will use existing and new funding sources to tackle more than 200 projects that will make trips to these public lands safer and even more enjoyable.
Being good stewards of these lands means making balanced decisions. We believe Gov. Corbett’s proposals to enhance and protect our state parks and forests will be long viewed as wise stewardship.
John C. Oliver III served as secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and James Seif served as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection under former Gov. Tom Ridge.