During the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) budget hearing on February 28, Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), majority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, suggested one funding source for an expanded Growing Greener program could be allowing additional natural gas drilling on DCNR state forest lands.
During questioning of DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn, it was noted there are about 800,000 acres of state forest land in the Marcellus Shale natural gas play that have yet to be leased for drilling.
Leasing as few as 25,000 of those acres, Yaw said, could result in as much as $100 million in upfront payments, plus the payment of royalties over time for Growing Greener.
Growing Greener provides recreation, land conservation and environmental restoration grants to local governments, land trusts and watershed groups, as well has funding for on-farm conservation practices that help meet Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup commitments and implement TMDL nutrient reduction plans statewide.
Yaw said he is a big believer in using resources the state already owns for the public’s benefit and referenced Senate Bill 104 (Bartolotta-R-Washington), reported out of his Committee in January, urging Governor Wolf to lift his moratorium on state forest land leasing.
He pointed to provisions in the resolution supporting non-surface disturbance horizontal drilling, which he said means no cutting roads or trees to extract the natural gas.
Secretary Dunn said she does not believe additional drilling could be done without surface disturbance. She also cautioned that the current natural gas market may not support the same level of upfront payments DCNR has received in the previous leases.
She said there has been a lot of development on state forest leases already and probably more leasing than should have been allowed.
John Norbeck, deputy secretary for the Bureau of Parks and Forestry, noted the existing drilling leases are only about 40 percent built out, with 60 percent to go.
In response to a question from Senator John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), minority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Dunn said the agency will soon issue its second monitoring report documenting the impacts of drilling on state forests. Norbeck added the report should be available by May 30.
DCNR works with the Natural Gas Advisory Committee on the report and other issues related to drilling on state forest lands. For more information, visit DCNR’s Natural Gas Management webpage.
[Note: In January of 2017, Yaw and other Pennsylvania members of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission wrote to members of the Senate and House pointing to the need for a dedicated Clean Water Fund for Pennsylvania and a new water use fee as one way to fund the initiative.]
Lyme Timber Loan
In response to a question from Senator Scott Wagner (R-York), Dunn provided background on a recent $25.4 million loan from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority to Lyme Timber Company to put over 9,362 acres of private forest land into a working forest conservation easement.
The funding will help create over 50 new forestry jobs and leverage over $91 million of private investment in seven counties: Cameron, Clinton, Elk, Jefferson, McKean, Potter, and Venango. Dunn said a total of $50 million has been loaned by PennVEST to Lyme Timber for the project.
The project will also serve to preserve, protect, and improve water quality. The property includes an acid mine drainage restoration project within the Sterling Run tract.
Dunn noted that a conservation easement limits certain uses or prevents subdivision and fragmentation from taking place on the land, which still remains in private hands to continue to provide economic benefits in the form of jobs and property taxes.
The funding for this project came from a combination of state funds approved by voters, federal grants to PennVEST from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and recycled loan repayments from previous PennVEST funding awards.
ATV Use Expansion
In response to questions by Yaw and Senator Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) about expanding ATV riding opportunities, John Norbeck and Deputy Secretary Laura Imgrund said the agency is completing a study looking at expanding ATV riding opportunities across the state, including locating sites for ATV parks and expanding ATV trails. The study should be available by mid-summer.
Senator Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), majority chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, expressed his concern about signs of “financial stress” in the oil and gas lease and Growing Greener funds because they have been used to keep the agency running. He said that once you spend out these funds, it is difficult for them to recover.
Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), minority chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, voiced a concern about additional drilling on DCNR lands, saying that the Commonwealth has to think carefully about how these valuable public resources are to be managed.
Click here for a copy of Secretary Dunn’s written testimony.
Click here for video of Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearings and the complete hearing schedule.
The initial budget hearings for DCNR are now concluded.
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