Keep gas drilling out of state parks
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Pennsylvania's state parks are special places. These public lands provide opportunities for families to connect with nature and for sportsmen and women to enjoy hunting and fishing. Our state parks also allow folks to escape from the stress of traffic jams and crowded cities for cleaner air and more peaceful moments.
Unfortunately, conserving these precious outdoor spaces for recreation and the quality of life they provide for Pennsylvania's residents may conflict with another resource: natural gas.
Sixty-one of Pennsylvania's state parks sit on top of the vast Marcellus Shale formation. While the state owns the land, it does not own the subsurface rights. Nearly one-fourth of Pennsylvania is available for drilling, and the state game commission is also opening up game land for natural gas drilling. In total, 7 million acres of Pennsylvania land, public and private, are already under lease by the natural gas industry, yet the industry wants to drill underneath our valuable state parks.
In this haste to drill, I and other Keystone state hunters and anglers fear that many of the environmental impacts, like air and water pollution, are being ignored. The National Wildlife Federation supports responsible natural gas extraction. But, there are special places that should be preserved for recreation and connecting with nature.
More than 38 million people visit Pennsylvania's state parks every year, spending $818 million annually. National Wildlife Federation's state affiliate, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), is calling on drillers to be good citizens and to help protect our parks and the jobs and economic benefits these public lands provide.
PennFuture is also asking the natural gas companies to sign a pledge to current and future citizens of the commonwealth that they will not:
1. Develop any deep gas reserves in a manner that disturbs the surface of any state park in Pennsylvania;
2. Participate in the development of any pipeline that would carry gas from deep reserves obtained by surface disturbance of any state park in Pennsylvania;
3. Knowingly purchase or market gas from deep reserves that is obtained by surface disturbance of any state park in Pennsylvania.
Oil and gas interests want to develop natural gas wells on many of our public lands, including state parks, using the process of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."
As described in a new National Wildlife Federation report, "No More Drilling in the Dark," this unconventional approach to drilling makes it possible to recover natural gas 3,000 to 15,000 feet below the surface by injecting large volumes of fluids at high pressure to crack open shale rock and release the gas trapped inside. Each time a well is fracked, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are used. Drilling fluids containing high-risk chemicals can spill and contaminate surrounding streams, rivers and well water.
In addition to threatening Pennsylvania's water resources, the cumulative impact of multiple drilling locations leaves a large footprint on the landscape, compromising habitat for wildlife such as deer, songbirds and salamanders that rely on forest ecosystems.
The Nature Conservancy of Pennsylvania estimated an average of 8.8 acres is needed for each drilling pad. That's a lot of land and lost wildlife habitat when you consider that there are more than 4,000 wells drilled in our state already. That number is expected to jump to 60,000 natural gas wells in the next two decades.
Pennsylvania's sporting and outdoors heritage is being threatened by a rush to extract natural gas lying beneath many of our state parks. Members of the Sportsmen Alliance for Marcellus Shale Conservation wrote an op-ed published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in October urging our lawmakers to protect outdoor areas vital to local economies and our rich hunting and fishing traditions.
As a member of the Sportsmen Alliance, the National Wildlife Federation shares those concerns, especially with regard to clean air, water and wildlife habitat. Because of increased natural gas drilling in the Keystone State, now we have to ask, "Will there be clean streams, rivers and lakes left on our state parks for our children and grandchildren to fish and swim in?"
In addition to an industry pledge to protect our state parks from the impacts of drilling, lawmakers need to pass commonsense legislation to protect these public lands, require disclosure of toxic fracking fluids and put a comprehensive monitoring system in place to fully understand the impacts of drilling on our air, water and wildlife.
Our state parks were acquired and are managed as a public trust to provide natural spaces everyone can enjoy, not to accommodate industrial facilities and activities. Natural gas will no doubt be in our nation's energy portfolio for the foreseeable future.
But people don't go to parks to look at or listen to drilling rigs. Just because oil and gas companies can drill on public lands doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. With so much land already available for energy companies to use, let's keep drilling out of our state parks so that current and future generations of Pennsylvanians can enjoy clean outdoor spaces and a rich hunting and fishing heritage.
First Published December 27, 2011 12:00 am