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State forests nearest Luzerne County that have drilling are in Pike and Lycoming counties

Last updated: April 18. 2014 11:38PM - 2103 Views
By Jon O'Connell joconnell@civitasmedia.com



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HARRISBURG — The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources doesn't believe natural gas development is having catastrophic effects in state forests, but there are impacts, and a new in-depth study points out the side effects of drilling in state forests.
 
DCNR published its report Wednesday in which the state's foresters and biologists amassed data that lawmakers may use when crafting legislation that addresses the natural gas production that has flourished in much of the state.
 
There is no drilling in Luzerne County, in fact operators have dubbed the area “dry” in terms of fossil fuels. But the Loyalsock State Forest in Lycoming County, which is about 2 1/2 hours west from Wilkes-Barre has leased about 62,000 acres to drillers, the report says.
 
Delaware State Forest in Pike County, about an hour east from Wilkes-Barre, has leased about 512 acres to drillers, the report says.
 
There are about 673,000 acres of state forest available for Marcellus Shale production, that's about 44 percent of the approximate 1.5 million state-owned acreage, the report says. Only about 388,000 acres have actually been leased out for gas drilling.
 
Of the land leased, about 1,500 acres have be developed to make way for well pads, access roads and pipelines. The remaining leases likely are primarily for subsurface rights, which requires no surface disturbance.
 
In the preface of the 265 page report, Parks and Forestry Deputy Secretary Daniel A. Devlin draws conclusions saying drilling on forest lands is “neither benign nor catastrophic,” and also says that there are trade-offs and impacts that must be balanced.
 
The department posted the report in full to its website, www.dcnr.state.pa.us, under the forestry section.
 
The report says, though some initial side effects have been noted since the department began aggressively tracking data in 2012, much won't be clear until time passes giving scientists a chance to study the forests and the drilling, long-term.
 
From water samples taken from streams and rivers in state lands, it would appear there has been no significant impacts to drilling, the report says; however, it clarifies that data collected will serve as baseline samples for future testing.
 
Violations and similar health and safety incidents reached into the hundreds from 2008 to 2012, the report says.
 
The state Department of Environmental Protection investigated 324 incidents on state forest land that resulted in 308 violation notices.
 
While DCNR has no law enforcement power as an agency, it is granted some authority as the lease holder of record, the report says.
 
State forests have been leased for oil and gas production since around 1950, but in 2009 revenue from gas production spiked from around $1 million annually, to about $160 million from 2008 to 2009.
 
DCNR credits most of that revenue to the shale boom, when drillers swept in with fat sign-on bonus checks that accompanied new leases.
 
After 2010, the rush quieted and royalty revenue rose as new wells went online.
 
Most recently, statistics show royalty revenue around $75 million annually pumping into state coffers.

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