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: firstname.lastname@example.org