Pennsylvania - State Forests

State: Pennsylvania
Region: North Central Pensylvania

In January 2015, Governor Wolf signed an executive order placing a moratorium on new leasing for oil and gas drilling in our state parks and forests. This action reinstates a 2010 moratorium on new leases of state lands that was established after agency review determined that no additional state forest acreage was suitable for natural gas development without compromising its natural character.

The Marcellus Shale Formation is part of the Hamilton geologic structure that is roughly 390 million years old. It formed when Devonian age seas, covered much of North America. Over millions of years the mud that eventually became the Marcellus shale was deposited on the deep, oxygen deprived seafloor. Where there are ancient seas, there is usually an abundance of natural gas.

The Marcellus shale formation is now being developed for unconventional natural gas. Shale is a dense rock, which does not give up much fluid or gas from a vertical hole drilled through it. Vertical drilling is not very successful in this type of dense shale, so most of the Marcellus shale formation is horizontally drilled. After a well has been horizontally drilled, hydraulic fracturing is done on the newly drilled well.

After casing or heavy pipe has been run into the newly drilled hole, extremely high pressure pumps are hooked up and fluids, containing water, sands and chemicals are forced down into the shale to open cracks and fissures so more natural gas can flow out of the formation. Hydraulic fracturing is the primary completion process used in the Marcellus. Wells in the Marcellus formation are as deep as 9000 feet. Up to fifty percent of this fluid may remain in the ground.

With the development of the Marcellus Shale formation, state lands in Pennsylvania are leased for the unconventional gas industry, and natural landscapes are being transformed into industrial zones. Public wild lands and state forests, fish and wildlife habitat are being threatened and decimated.

The Tiadaghton Forest is one of eight forests that make up Pennsylvania's Wilds, a two million acre series of eight forests that provide critically important habitat for many species of rare, important and endangered plant and animal species. Yearly, the Wilds bring in nearly two billion dollars to Pennsylvania's economy as a significant driver of tourism, sporting and forest products. Unfortunately, the Tiadaghton has been targeted for drilling with acquiescence from the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

From the air EcoFlight saw development on the Tiadaghton, Loyalsock, and Sproul State Forests, and how the industry impacts the landscape as a whole. Traditional forestry roads have been significantly widened 700–800% or more to accommodate industry traffic. Large forested areas have been cleared and fragmented for well pads, compressor stations, impoundments (fresh and wastewater), staging areas, pipelines, new access roads, and other infrastructure.  Vast areas that were once wilderness quality are now industrialized.  Where the Marcellus has been developed, the integrity and contiguity of the forest no longer exists.

At only twenty percent development, impacts to the forest landscape are clear to see especially from the air.  With current government plans to expand this leasing throughout Pennsylvania’s forests, the Tiadaghton, Loyalsock and Sproul State Forests should be seen as a bellwether for the future of the Public Trust and a case study for why we need an immediate ban on drilling on state lands.

Pennsylvania's constitution has protections in place for the state's natural resources, stating, "The people have a right to clean air, pure water and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment."  Our conservation partners in Pennsylvania are working hard to uphold the constitution and protect these public lands for the values they provide for the benefit of the people who own them.