Ohiopyle State Park is the crown jewel of our world-class state parks system. Located in Pittsburgh’s backyard and adjacent to Frank Lloyd Wright’s world-famous Fallingwater, the park draws 1.4 million visitors annually.
My husband and I visited the park for our 10th anniversary and had a wonderful time hiking, swimming and bird-watching. It was after this visit that we lost all doubt we had made the right decision to leave the mountains of New Mexico and relocate to southwestern Pennsylvania. In terms of sheer beauty and opportunities for outdoor adventures, the aptly nicknamed Land of Enchantment has nothing on the Laurel Highlands.
That is why it is so disturbing that Gov. Tom Corbett’s executive order could allow fracking under Ohiopyle and other state parks throughout Pennsylvania. They claim the drill rigs and pads would be located outside park boundaries and would not disturb surface areas inside the parks, but allowing fracking under the parks still could ruin these precious public open spaces.
Consider the following when it comes to Ohiopyle …
Look at a map and you will see that, although the park is large, its boundaries are very jagged. Fracking wells could easily be located in any number of areas that are surrounded on three sides by parkland and right on top of popular trails, campsites, picnic areas and even the park visitors’ center.
The main attraction for this park is the Youghiogheny River, by some accounts the best whitewater rafting venue in the eastern United States, and remarkably clean considering all the damage that’s been done to rivers in this region by acid mine drainage and other forms of industrial pollution.
Fracking wells generate millions of gallons of water contaminated with chemicals, heavy metals, radioactivity and numerous other pollutants. This water is stored in open pits on-site where it can spill into nearby rivers due to mishandling, shoddy construction or just plain heavy rain.
The trucks that serve well sites are large and loud, and each well requires thousands of truck trips to bring equipment and water in and out during drilling. Imagine how the character of little Ohiopyle would change with fracking trucks rumbling around it constantly. And can you imagine biking on the curvy mountain roads if you had to share them with all these trucks?
Gas equipment, once in place, is far from silent and runs 24/7. On a recent hike in the Allegheny National Forest, I was trying to enjoy an otherwise lovely hike along a river that was running exceptionally high due to recent rains. But even above the roar of the water, I could hear the hum of a gas compressor station for a good half hour. Camping anyone?
But even if you are not someone who appreciates the great outdoors and are not moved or outraged by the threats I present, perhaps I can appeal to your economic sensibilities.
Ohiopyle State Park adds over $30 million per year to the local economy and completely supports the town and everyone who works there. The entire state parks system adds more than $1.1 billion per year to the commonwealth’s economy.
The Corbett administration estimates that the state would gain $75 million in revenue from leasing land under state parks for fracking. But how much would we lose if people stop visiting the parks because neighboring areas have been industrialized?
During our 10th anniversary trip, my mother came to visit and babysit our 2-year-old daughter so we could get away for the weekend. On our way home, we talked about how great it will be to take her rafting on the Yough when she’s old enough.
Gov. Corbett, I really hope that by that time it hasn’t been spoiled.
Christine Dahlin is a professor of biology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (firstname.lastname@example.org).