The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) mission is ‘to ensure the long-term health, viability and productivity of the Commonwealth’s forests and to conserve native wild plants’. It also encompasses the duty to accommodate the environmentally sound utilization of mineral resources on state forest land. As part of this duty, the DCNR released its second report on Shale gas monitoring, providing a comprehensive look at the gas monitoring program, shale production and administration, shale infrastructure and landscape effects, ecosystem conditions, and forest use.
Of the 2.2 million acres in the state forest system, 1.5 million acres lie in the Marcellus shale footprint. As of 2016, the total acreage subject to gas development was 612,166 acres, with mineral rights of 331,287 acres owned by private interests. Current build-out of shale gas leases in the core Marcellus forests is approximately 30-35%. Projected full build-out on the current leased acreage estimates there could be as many as 1,475 wells. There has been no leasing of state forest land since 2010, and there is a current executive order in place for no leasing in state and park forest lands in the Commonwealth for oil and gas development.
The gas monitoring program consists of an integrated monitoring team, in-field management activities, and working with research and external partners. The programs monitor 15 items such as water, plants, animals, invasive species, recreation, infrastructure, and forest health. The current report on water quality monitoring indicates no significant concerns on state forest headwater streams to date. Continued monitoring efforts will help to provide long-term and cumulative data. Of all the streams found in the core gas forest regions, 85% are classified as exception value or high quality.
Invasive plants are of concern, as disturbed sites are ideal for their establishment. As of the end of 2016, there were 238 infrastructure pads and 66 access roads that were surveyed for invasive plants. Eighty-seven percent of the pads were found to have invasive plants on them, the most common species being bull thistle, crown-vetch and spotted knapweed.
Minimizing forest fragmentation is important. From the 2008 to 2012 period, 1,435.6 acres of state forest were converted for shale gas infrastructure (pad, pipeline, road clearances). For the 2013 to 2016 timeframe, 333.9 acres were converted. Forest fragmentation increased edge forest habitat by 9,913 acres from 2008 to 2016. Site rehabilitation has occurred on 12 well pads, 2 monitoring sites, 2 monitoring well sites and a meter station. A mock well pad site was constructed in partnership with Penn State researchers to understand how well pad construction techniques can impact forest reclamation practices, seed mixes and plant species survival used in reclamation.
DCNR has a Shale gas monitoring website in which the recent and prior Shale Monitoring reports can be found in entirety.