DCNR official: Leases for public lands not endorsed

HARRISBURG — A high-rank­ing Penn­syl­va­nia con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cial said Tues­day that he is not aware of any­one at the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Nat­u­ral Re­sources rec­om­mend­ing to the gov­er­nor or Leg­is­la­ture that the state should lease more pub­lic nat­u­ral lands for oil and gas ex­trac­tion.

Dan Devlin, DCNR’s dep­uty sec­re­tary for parks and for­estry, tes­ti­fied in Com­mon­wealth Court that he did not rec­om­mend that the state lease ad­di­tional tracts of state parks and for­ests when state bud­get of­fi­cials sug­gested it last fall, and he does not know of any­one in the de­part­ment mak­ing that rec­om­men­da­tion.

But he said he is com­fort­able with the gov­er­nor’s pro­posal to open ad­di­tional acres for gas ex­trac­tion “as long as it’s no sur­face dis­tur­bance and we get to set the con­di­tions.”

Gov. Tom Cor­bett has pro­posed to raise $75 mil­lion for the up­com­ing bud­get by leas­ing gas re­sources that com­pa­nies can reach from ad­ja­cent prop­er­ties with­out caus­ing new sur­face dis­tur­bances on state lands. His bud­get pro­posal also calls for shift­ing $117 mil­lion in oil and gas rev­e­nues from a spe­cial con­ser­va­tion ac­count to fund DCNR’s op­er­a­tions.

The Penn­syl­va­nia En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Foun­da­tion wants the court to stop the state from leas­ing that land and trans­fer­ring those funds.

Mr. Devlin spoke as the state’s sole wit­ness dur­ing three days of tes­ti­mony over whether the lease and bud­get pro­pos­als will cause im­me­di­ate and ir­rep­a­ra­ble harm. He cal­cu­lated that about 25,000 acres would be leased to meet the gov­er­nor’s bud­get goal.

DCNR has crafted what has been called the stron­gest gas lease in the coun­try, he said, and its re­stric­tions on gas de­vel­op­ment have got­ten “tighter and tighter” over time.

Sean Con­can­non, an at­tor­ney in the state Of­fice of Gen­eral Coun­sel who is rep­re­sent­ing the gov­er­nor, said the en­vi­ron­men­tal foun­da­tion has wrongly sug­gested that the state can ei­ther have pris­tine for­ests or gas drill­ing.

“They are pre­sent­ing to the court a false choice,” he said, add­ing that gas leases are an ap­pro­pri­ate use of the state’s power to raise money for con­ser­va­tion and other pur­poses.

Wit­nesses for the en­vi­ron­men­tal group said that cur­rent gas de­vel­op­ment on state lands has al­ready dam­aged the ap­peal of Penn­syl­va­nia’s wild spaces for tour­ists and res­i­dents.

Cindy Dunn, pres­i­dent of the en­vi­ron­men­tal group PennFu­ture and past DCNR dep­uty sec­re­tary of con­ser­va­tion and tech­ni­cal ser­vice, said the state has com­mit­ted con­sid­er­able re­sources to de­vel­op­ing and pro­mot­ing the Penn­syl­va­nia Wilds eco-tour­ism re­gion around state parks and for­ests, but that is an area busy with gas de­vel­op­ment now.

“There is an ex­pec­ta­tion of a wil­der­ness ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said, but vis­i­tors are now en­coun­ter­ing in­creased in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment.

“It’s not the ex­pe­ri­ence they were prom­ised on the web­site,” she said.

Laura Legere: lleg­ere@post-ga­zette.com

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