Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources releases report on impact of shale gas development on public lands

On April 16, 2014, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) issued a long-awaited report concerning shale gas activities in the state’s forests. In late 2010, the Bureau of Forestry initiated a Shale-Gas Monitoring Program to “track, detect, and report on the impacts of” shale gas development and “to provide objective and credible information to the public and inform and improve shale-gas management efforts.”

According to the report, there are approximately 1.5 million acres of state forest located over the Marcellus Shale. Of that acreage, 44% (673,000 acres) is available for gas development. Leases would restrict surface disturbance in sensitive areas and limit overall surface disturbance to approximately 2% of the acreage within the lease tract.

The program monitors a broad set of values including water, wildlife, plants, forest health, invasive species, soil, air, incidents, recreation, community engagement, timber, energy, revenue, forest landscapes, and infrastructure. For each of these values, the report sets out key points and findings. Among these key points are the following:
  • Initial water monitoring results have not identified any significant impacts due to shale-gas development.
  • A widespread sampling of water, including over 300 locations, showed that pH results were primarily in the circum-neutral range.
  • As of 2012, approximately 1,486 acres of state forest have been converted to roads, pipelines and well pads.
  • Impacts to the forest surrounding disturbance can only be discovered through long-term forest health monitoring.
  • Increased susceptibility to pest attack, especially by nonnative invasive species, may occur wherever there is forest disturbance along newly created edges.
  • To the extent possible, placement of shale-gas infrastructure has avoided wet souls and soils with high runoff potential.
  • A short-term air quality study did not detect air pollutants above rural background conditions.
  • Wildlife habitat will change due to shale-gas infrastructure, resulting in more edge and early successional habitat.
The environmental group PennFuture has raised questions about the report, asking if it was peer-reviewed by outside experts, what changes the DCNR has made or will make as a result of this report, and when will the raw data be released. The group opposes drilling in parks and state forests and criticizes Governor Tom Corbett’s plan to lift a 2010 moratorium on additional state forest leasing in order to raise $75 million in revenues.

State Representative Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, asked the DCNR to release details of the plan to allow additional drilling for gas in the state’s forests. That request under Pennsylvania’s Right-To-Know law was essentially denied, with the DCNR stating that the requests were overbroad and that it “was unable to locate information or records…that specifically indicated $75 million through non-surface impact drilling on Commonwealth-owned land.” The DNRC indicated that it would produce records showing the mineral rights owned by the state in state parks, and it agreed to provide thousands of pages of underlying data for the Shale-Gas Monitoring Report upon receipt of a new request.

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson ( or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright's Energy Practice Group.