2018-12-01 / Front Page

1 Natural gas drilling slows on state forest land


A drilling convoy heads through state forest land en route to a wellpad. More than 1 million acres of Pennsylvania’s state forest are available for shale has drilling. Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY photo A drilling convoy heads through state forest land en route to a wellpad. More than 1 million acres of Pennsylvania’s state forest are available for shale has drilling. Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY photo While vast expanses of state forest land in Potter and Cameron will likely be cleared of trees and drilled for natural gas, the impact of Pennsylvania’s shale gas revolution has so far been minimal.

Pa. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) recently released a report on the buildout of natural gas infrastructure in the state forest system.

Areas of concern include negative impacts on recreation, noise, water quality degradation, forest fragmentation, spreading of invasive species and loss of wildlife habitat.

Nearly half of the 2.2 million acres of state-owned forest is available for natural gas development, either through leases to drilling companies issued by DCNR (386,000 acres) or areas where the state does not own the underground mineral rights.

Deep drilling to harvest gas from shale formations began in Pennsylvania about a decade ago. Through 2012, DCNR reported, just 1,425 acres of forest had been converted for shale gas infrastructure. The most recent report noted that only 334 acres were converted through 2016.

The slowdown was attributed to lingering low prices for natural gas in the marketplace and the absence of pipelines to usher the gas to market.

DCNR pointed out that nearly 140,000 acres of state forest land has been leased for shale gas development, so additional drilling is likely. “While we can begin to see some trends, natural resource monitoring is a long-term endeavor, and it may take longer to discern other trends in resource change and conditions,” the department reported.

Invasive plants are of increasing concern as their presence and quantities are on the rise. “Disturbed sites are ideal for the establishment of invasive plants that often emerge early in the spring and out-compete native plants through their rapid reproduction,” the report noted.

Nearly 90 percent of the 238 infrastructure pads monitored contained invasive species like bull thistle, crown-vetch and spotted knapweed. Once populations are established, their seeds can spread rapidly to access roads and new pad sites.

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