Report Exposes Air Pollution and Radioactive Waste From Drilling
50,000 Gallons of Fracking Wastewater a Day Sent to Charm City

The Big Sellout? State Forests Now Controlled by Enron Oil & Gas and Other Drilling Companies

LisakfamilyPennsylvania's state forests are being rapidly industrialized by a multiplication of natural gas wells. While there are about 150 gas wells in state forests today, that number is expected to jump to more than 10,000 wells over the next two decades as more drilling companies exploit a regional rock formation called the Marcellus shale, according to state figures.

To get a feel for the human and environmental consequences of this, I took a trip out to one of these state forests -- Moshannon State Forest in Clearfield County, located about three hours northwest of Harrisburg, Pa. I toured the forest with a local farmer named Jenny Lisak. Above is a picture of Jenny's family hiking through the state forest four years ago, before the drilling started.

Drillinginstateforest1

Jenny fell in love with the forest when she was a kid. She would go walking, picnicking and bird watching there with her dad.  Later, she brought her own children to the woods to wade into cool streams and hunt for salamanders. But when Jenny returned on a recent afternoon, the forest didn't look the same.  When she walked into what had been a stand of oaks and elms, she saw that about five acres of the forest had been clear cut.  A natural gas drilling rig (above) was surrounded by a gravel parking lot with a small city of industry -- workers in hard hats, bulldozers, dump trucks, racks of pipes and mobile office buildings.

     

Drillingtruck A traffic jam of trucks, carrying sand and water for the hydraulic fracturing process, rumbled down roads that had been widened for the drilling. The snow on the sides of the roads was not white, as Jenny remembered it when she would cross-country ski here. It was black and crusty, as you might find in New York City. As she examined one of the drilling rigs from one of the roads, an employee of Enron Oil & Gas (EOG) pulled up in a pickup truck and told her and me to get out.  

Privatesecurityguard

"But this is a public road on state property," I protested. "This is public property."

"This isn't," the EOG employee insisted (incorrectly). He then called a private security guard, who pulled up in the SUV pictured at right.

Jenny Lisak shook her head, and we climbed into her car and drove away.

“It’s been just an incredible change in this state forest," Jenny said.  "People don’t like you to be here, obviously, and it is sort of intimidating."

 
SiteofEOGblowout"There is industrial activity all around, huge roads, constant traffic," Jenny Lisak said. "I used to come out here with my father, and we'd hear hermit thrushes and the wood thrushes trilling.  But you don’t hear any birds anymore.”

On the way out, we drove past this gate, leading to a hunting club surrounded by state forest land. It was here, on June 3, that an EOG gas well suffered a major blowout. The "potentially catastrophic failure" of the well equipment sent 35,000 gallons of drilling wastewater spewing into the sky and over the ground for 16 hours, polluting a tributary of Little Laurel Run, which had a high quality fishery, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The environmental violations during the blowout were among 22 across the state last year caused by EOG drilling, according to the state agency.

Johnquigley The blowout also forced an evacuation of Moshannon State Forest, according to John Quigley (right), who was Pennsylvania's Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources at the time.

Quigley predicted that conflicts like this, between people who want to use state forests for recreation, and the companies that lease state forests for drilling, could rise in the future as more and more wells are drilled on public lands.

He also added that some pollution and fragmentation of forest habitats is almost inevitable when thousands of gas wells and their accompanying roads and pipelines are built in state forests.

"Anything that can go wrong has gone wrong, because of the numbers (of wells) involved," Quigley said.  "We've had surface spills of fracking fluids...we've had diesel fuel spills. We've seen diesel trucks overturn and flip and spill their contents, and sometimes that contamination reaches a stream."

Since the 1950s, Pennsylvania has allowed some gas wells in state forests. But Quigley said the state’s careful and conservation-focused approach to leasing state forest land changed because of a scramble to balance the budget during the recession.


Drillingbackhoe Pennsylvania from 2007 to 2010 leased out 130,000 acres of its state forests to drilling companies to raise $383 million, Quigley said. Overall, about a third of Pennsylvania’s state forests are now under lease to drilling companies. Traditionally, money raised by leasing out state forests went back into conservation.  But in this case, Pennsylvania used the money for its general fund.

Quigley predicted the drilling of about 12,000 more natural gas wells in Pennsylvania's state forests over the next decade or two.  A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Christina Novak, put the estimate at about 1,000 well pads, each with six to 10 wells (making up to 10,000 wells.)

Quigley noted that natural gas has some environmental benefits, such as releasing less air pollution and mercury than the burning of coal.  But he said that the cumulative impact of all the drilling predicted across Pennsylvania could be significant.

Drillingtank2 “No one, I believe really understands the scale at which this industry is going to overtake the landscape of the commonwealth," Quigley said.  "The environmental disruption from this industry is going to be massive."

Quigley recently testified before Maryland’s General Assembly, warning the state not to make the mistakes that his state made with drilling. 

John Griffin, Maryland’s Secretary of Natural Resources, praised Quigley for sounding an alarm on the issue not only after he left office, but also while he was still working for the state.

"John has a lot of courage and credibility to state publicly what his concerns are," Griffin said. 

Drillingrigtall There are no active gas wells today in Maryland’s state forests. But surrounding state land in the Western part of the Maryland, more than 500 owners of private properties have signed leases with drilling companies.

Secretary Griffin said that he, personally, does not believe public lands should be exploited by the energy industry. He noted that the O’Malley Administration three years ago rejected a proposal to allow even wind turbines in state forests.

“They are held in trust primary for conservation, and for public recreational use," Griffin said of state forests and parks.

"When you think about a whole lot of either commercial scale wind farms, or a lot of drilling platforms, it’s a great disruption to the increasing public use of those lands," Griffin said.

A difference between Pennsylvania and Maryland is that Pennsylvania, birthplace of the oil and gas industry, does not own the mineral rights under 15 percent of its state forests, and 85 percent of its state parks. Maryland owns all of the mineral rights under all of its public lands.

But at the core of the issue, for both states, are questions about the real purpose of public lands, and who government serves.

Jenny Lisak, for one, feels like her local state forest has been taken over by a private company.  And, in a way, she's right.  State records show that drilling companies now hold the rights to extract gas from under 96,547 acres of the Moshannon State Forest, which is more than half of the forest's 190,012 acres.

"In my opinion, this is not the purpose of what the state forests were really meant for," Lisak said.  "An area set aside for conservation is now an industrial zone."

Article and photos by Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

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I live in ccentral PA (The Coal Region),since moving back 3 and half yrs ago they have been clearing trees off our mountains,almost daily I see a truck of timber going down the road,it's sad,we no longer have the beautiful mountain scape surrounding us like we use to,it's becoming barron,not to mention what happens to the wildlife since the take away their habitat,it's frustrating and sad to see happen. We also have the wind turbines here and I believe they have plans for expanding them. I wish they would leave nature as it is.

Karen, is that clear-cutting happening for gas drilling? Or is it timber being harvested?

Tom,
For the most part, the land is being clear-cutted for gas drilling. That said, timbering (including on state land) still plays a significant role in PA's economy.

Melinda
melinda@natureabounds.org

Tom:

Thank you very much for your well done and thorough article in the Bay Daily, "The Big Sellout ..."

My husband and I have long loved PA state forest and state park lands, and we appreciate your efforts to let the world know what is happening in our state.

We consider the oil and gas industry invasion in our state and state forests (and the high risk for the same in our state parks) to be one of the worst environmental atrocities to ever happen in Pennsylvania.

The health of people and the health of the environment are One.

Best regards,

Sandra
Butler County, PA

I thank you too, Tom for your most excellent
article. I live on a little dirt road that
enters a portion of the Moshannon State
Forest and EOG is down the road right now,
as I type. I intimately live with this part of our state's tragedy and really appreciate that you have shared our story
and told the truth. I am deeply saddened,
sickened by fumes and dirt and who knows what else but I have gratitude that you are giving a voice to us.

Thank you for your great article. It's really unbelieveable until you witness this industry firsthand, which I have. Wake up America & stop this madness!!!

Great article. More people need to be speaking out about this atrocity!

I love this story and hate it at the same time. Thank you for bringing this tragedy to light. I grew up in the woods of Jefferson County Pennsylvania. Searching for salamanders was also one of my favorite activities. My heart is heavy with sadness.

Tom,
Thank you for writing this article. I live about 15 miles from the State Forest where these pictures were taken. It is very rare to see an article as open and honest as yours published in our area. You have truly done an excellent job of reporting the truth.
For the past year I have lived with the hope that if only the truth was spread about the gas drilling, surely it would be banned or at least a moratorium would be initiated. After a year of continued destruction I am convinced it will take much more, because I believe that our government knows the truth and the state of Pennsylvania is the sacrificial lamb being sent to slaughter.
Please do not end with this article, please continue to spread the truth so that people in other states may see, and hopefully learn from our mistakes.

Tom,

Thank you for helping us. I live in Elk County just north of where you were. It is a crime what is happening in our state and the reason it is happening is corrupt politicians. 78% of Pennsylvanians want a tax on Marcellus shale and 85% want our State and National forests and State Parks protected! Yet, our politicians continue doing what the industry wants and ignore the people! Hopefully, your article and experience will wake more people up! We need to get a film crew in there to get some footage on the news channels or aerial photos of the devastation! Thanks again for telling the truth and helping us!

John W. Parana

Thank you for covering these actions that have the potential to destroy ever more of the beautiful lands and clean water of my state, and the health of its residents.

This is a travesty. We are turning our backs on our history. If this had been put forward as a plan, surely it would be rejected. It was not. It is time to get organized. Whining on Facebook and other venues is not going to get stop this. Money won't fix this once it is done. Those chemicals don't biodegrade. we need to speak with one voice, boycott companies that do this, hit them where it hurts. Does anyone know how to organize this?

I Clearly remember that the there are mineral rights leased in the Savage River State Forest ! Here are some maps of leased lands and sold right's in Garrett County

http://garrettcountymarcellus.org/garrett-county-marcellus-shale/garrett-county-maps-of-leased-lands/

Thank you for this article. It made me cry. They are destroying the forests that I love. Moshannon has a gorgeous red oak forest. Ben Franklin wanted to conserve the forests of PA and had it written into the state charter. He must be spinning in his grave now.

Even if it's private land that's being leased for gas extraction, there should be limits on what a private landowner can use his property for. You can't run a meth lab on your property. You shouldn't be able to have gas drilling on your land anymore that a meth lab. They're both a public health hazard. When we redefine these wells as such, which is what they are, maybe they can be legislated and stopped for the criminal activity they are.

The first step in corporate feudalism is to privatize the public trusts. This land is for future generations. No one has the right to impair it. It does not belong to the governor, the legislature and definitely not the oil and gas industry.

Like others, I very much appreciate your writing this article. We all really must join together and ban drilling in state and national forests, for a start. Darla, you make a very good point. The NYT series on radiation-laced toxic frac waste being dumped into our waters very likely means that worse is happening in the forests. Thank you again.

Forest-PRESS CONFERENCE

Time to blitz them to save the green. The green of Penn's Woods, not cold hard cash!

Now is the time to speak up for our forests!

If you can't go there in person, then please phone & fax your state representative. And your state senator too!

Find legislators using this search and then click their links for contact info:

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/#zip

From our friends at the PA Forest Coalition. Please pass the word to other organizations.

------------------------

Event on March 9, at 10 AM Moratorium on future gas leases in State Forests

Rep. Vitali will hold a press conference in Media Room, main Capitol

Greg will announce the introduction of a bill for 3 year moratorium on leasing in State Forests.

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