Former DCNR Secretary Responds to Rescission of Gas Drilling Ban on State Land

Quigley Expresses Concern Over Rescinded Regulation

From the Responsible Drilling Alliance

John Quigley, who was relieved of his position as Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) by incoming governor Tom Corbett, wrote the following article on February 18th.

Protection for State Parks and State Forests

As many as 12,000 natural gas wells could be drilled in Pennsylvania’s state forest over the next two decades as a result of the Marcellus natural gas boom. But did you know that untold numbers of wells could be drilled in state parks?

At least 61 state parks lie atop the Marcellus formation, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) doesn’t own the mineral rights to about 85 percent of state park land. That means that it has little ability to control – and no ability to stop – drilling in most of these parks, or the 15 percent of state forest land where gas rights are held privately.

Seismic trucks have already pounded the ground around Ohiopyle State Park – home to some of the best camping and white water rafting in the world – in preparation for drilling. Companies are exploring other parks.

The prospect of drill rigs in parks – and roads, and pipelines, and truck traffic, and noise, and air pollution, and all the other disruptions associated with gas drilling – is jarring.

The reality will be worse.

Should these special lands receive special protection as wells and roads and water impoundments and pipelines are sited?

Should drillers be required to coordinate with DCNR to minimize ecological and other impacts when they decide where to drill?

Should DCNR be required to do an environmental analysis of the potential impacts of drilling on the environment, public recreation, and aesthetics, and share this information with drillers and DEP before permits are issued?

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) used to think so.

Section 205 of Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act requires DEP to consider the impact of a proposed well on public resources, including publicly owned parks and forests, when making a determination on a well permit. On October 25, 2010, DEP adopted a policy to ensure that drillers and DEP coordinate with DCNR to consider the impacts of gas wells that are proposed on State Park and State Forest land.  Most of the work required under this policy falls on DCNR, not drilling companies.

In today’s Pennsylvania Bulletin, DEP announced that it was rescinding this policy, saying that it “was not subject to advanced public comment or review.” That much is true, and the omission of this step was probably an error, or at least not in keeping with DCNR’s longstanding practice of transparency and open communication with stakeholders. Since I was DCNR Secretary when the policy was put in place, I will take my share of the blame for that error.

But the rest of the explanation for the rescission is troubling. DEP says that the policy “is being rescinded as unnecessary and redundant of existing practice. The Department is implementing Section 205(c) and will continue to do so. The Department will continue to consider the input of all applicable parties with respect to public resources…”

Really?

Special care is vital when allowing drilling on public land. There are gaping holes in DEP and DCNR’s ability to take that care. The policy was designed to close them. Let’s hope that DEP will reconsider the rescission and instead propose the rule and take public and stakeholder comments, and then reinstate the policy as quickly as possible.

How can we guarantee protection of public land and safeguard other uses of Pennsylvanian’s parks and forests without these protections?

John Quigley

DEP ID: 550-2116-001. Title: Policy for the Evaluation of Impacts of Oil and Gas Development on State Parks and State Forests. Description: This document, which was not subject to advanced public comment or review, is being rescinded as unnecessary and redundant of existing practice. The Department is implementing Section 205(c) and will continue to do so. The Department will continue to consider the input of all applicable parties with respect to public resources outlined in Section 205(c). Contact: Questions regarding the rescission of this policy document should be directed to Patricia Allan at pmallan@ state.pa.us or (717) 783-8727.


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