by Richard Burrill
Friday, June 20, 2014 – Did you know there was an event at the Pennsylvania State House in Harrisburg this past Tuesday concerning something that could have major implications on your life? This rally, sponsored by Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, the Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network (UUPLAN) and several other groups and individuals, took place on June 17 at 1 p.m. and lasted about an hour in the Capitol Rotunda.
The purpose of the rally was to call for limiting hydro-fracking throughout Pennsylvania and for a moratorium on drilling of natural gas, a.k.a. methane, in our state forests and parks.
In addition to the four of us who drove up in the 91 degree heat from York, there were several hundred people in attendance, many of whom were carrying signs in support of our forests. Numerous journalists, photographers, television camera crews and reporters covered the event.
Over a dozen speakers made the case for protecting Pennsylvania’s environment from Governor Tom Corbett’s plan to lease our state forest and parks to Marcellus shale drillers. One of the speakers, PA State Representative Greg Vitali, of Delaware County, said that we need a severance tax on these gas companies. (Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax.) Others spoke passionately against the governor’s plan and for preserving the beautiful Penns Woods. Many urged us to develop natural fuels, instead of fossil fuels.
A January 2014 Franklin & Marshall College poll found that nearly 70 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose additional gas development in state forests and parks.
PA Governor Tom Corbett has said the leasing could generate $70 million to help close the budget gap. Well, governor, let’s take a look at some facts about our state forests. They are:
- Recreational and ecologic gems – what I call “Paradise.”
- Drivers of our tourism economy
- Home to a variety of animals, including black bear, wild turkeys, native brook trout and rare birds.
- Opportunities for hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping
- In addition, our state parks alone host 38 million visitors each year and contribute $1.2 billion per year to the economy of the state, providing more than 13,000 quality jobs.
Governor Corbett’s plan threatens all of the above.
- He recently issued an executive order lifting the previous moratorium and reopened our state forests to leasing for natural gas drillers to fill a one-time budget gap.
- He believes his proposal will not result in any additional disturbances.
It should concern every citizen of this Commonwealth that nearly half of the 1.5 million acres of state-owned forests that overlay the Marcellus shale is already leased to gas companies. Also, a 2010 PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources(DCNR) study found all of the unleased land is in ecologically sensitive areas. If you go online, you may read a more extensive 2014 DCNR monitoring report that might give you more concern.
I urge all of you to study the issues and teach others. Remember, you don’t know what you have, until it’s gone, and if our forests are gone, will we be far behind? Think on it.