The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently released its second report monitoring the environmental impacts of gas drilling on the 138,866 acres of state forest land leased specifically for shale gas development. The first shale gas monitoring report was issued in April of 2014 and covered shale gas drilling operations on state forest land from 2008 to 2012. The second report builds of information in the first and compares the different time periods to illustrate changes and trends.
However, the new report cautions: “While after more than eight years 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 conversion of state forest land to shale gas infrastructure has slowed since the first report due to market conditions. The first report found 1,425 acres of state forest had been converted to gas drilling infrastructure compared to 334 acres in the new report totalling 1,769.5 acres since 2008.
The report also noted the current shale gas leases are only about 30 to 35 percent built out, meaning there is much more gas infrastructure development to come in State Forests.
The 200-page monitoring report covers impacts to infrastructure, flora, forest health, invasive species, water, soil, air, incidents, fauna, recreation, community engagement, timber, energy, revenue, and forest landscapes.
“Ensuring sound management of our state forests and park lands is one of the ways DCNR carries out the responsibility as trustee of the Commonwealth’s natural resources,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “Using science to monitor how we manage our lands, specifically related to gas development, is an important way to assess the impacts of this activity, and adapt management practices to minimize those impacts to our state forests.”
The report’s findings include:
Balance Drilling With Recreation: We need to continue to work to balance shale gas development with the full range of recreational experiences on state forest. While shale gas infrastructure can increase visitor access and improve roads and bridges, it can also have the potential to impact the recreational experiences of visitors who may seek more primitive, undeveloped recreational experiences.
Invasive Plants: 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 outcompete native plants through their rapid reproduction. The report found over 87 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.
Implementation of an Early Detection and Rapid Response Program has detected 71 populations of high-threat invasive plants.
The bureau [of Forestry] is constantly on the look-out for invasive plants and prioritizing the control of these plants based on the species and population size.
No Significant Water Quality Concerns: Water quality monitoring efforts by the bureau and its partners have not raised significant concerns on state forest headwater streams to date. However, these are still relatively short-term results and may not be indicative of long-term or cumulative effects that can only be detected through long-term monitoring efforts.
Minimized Forest Fragmentation: We have thus far, through planning and careful siting, minimized forest fragmentation caused by additional shale gas infrastructure. The report notes an additional 9,913 acres of forest edge has been created along with a reduction in the amount of large core forest blocks.
Many areas of state forest subject to shale gas development are also valued from a statewide and regional level for interior forest conditions and habitat. As development proceeds under historic leases or where mineral rights are not owned by the Commonwealth, we need to continue our efforts to minimize forest fragmentation.
Only 30-35 Percent of Leases Developed: Shale gas development will be an activity on the state forest for many years to come. While there is currently a moratorium of the leasing of additional acres, many tracts of state forest are subject to gas activity through severed mineral rights ownership. Additionally, many state forest leased tracts are only built out by approximately 30 to 35 percent.