Fulfilling a campaign promise, Gov. Tom Wolf recently signed an executive order reinstating a moratorium on new leases for oil and gas development in state parks and forests, including a park in Greene County.
“Natural gas development is vital to Pennsylvania’s economy, but so is the economic and environmental viability of our parks and forests,” said Wolf in a statement released on Jan. 29. “This is about striking the right balance. Our state parks and forests are unique assets that should be preserved, protected, and utilized by our residents for recreational purposes.”
He went on to say parks across the state host 38 million visitors annually, support over 13,000 jobs, and provide $1.2 billion to the state’s economy.
“We should be looking for opportunities to grow our recreational and tourism economy through a revitalized parks and forest system that ensures we are preserving our natural resources and protecting our people and the environment,” Wolf stated in the press release.
Greene County has no state forests and one state park, Ryerson Station State Park in Richhill Township.
Elizabeth Menhart, director of the Greene County Tourist Promotion Agency, said the state park is a positive and integral part of Greene County tourism.
“Having Ryerson Station State Park is definitely an attraction for the county, one that we love to market, promote and advertise to tourists,” she said, adding that tourism is a “healthy industry” for the county’s economy.
Based on statistics gathered from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, tourism in Greene County in 2013 amassed a total of $91.8 million for lodging, food and beverages, retail, recreation and transportation, up from $80.4 million the year before.
“I think the (DCED’s) report definitely shows how important tourism is to Greene County,” she said. “If you look at the report’s data over the past eight years, it shows that tourism clearly continues to grow in this area.”
Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has concluded that additional leasing jeopardizes the agency’s ability to sustain the commonwealth’s gold-standard forest certification, which is vital to the economic and environmental well-being of the state’s parks and forests.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) expressed disappointment with the moratorium.
“Our hopes are certainly high to work constructively with Governor Wolf,” stated MSC president Dave Spigelmyer. “Unfortunately, this action – made without any industry input – to ban the safe and tightly-regulated development of natural gas from beneath taxpayer-owned lands flies in the face of common sense.”
“Non-surface taxpayer-owned energy development – through utilizing advanced horizontal drilling technologies that ensure no surface impacts – is not only an enormous current and potential source of revenue for the Commonwealth at a time when revenues are sorely needed,” Spigelmyer added, “but expanded natural gas production and use is enhancing air quality and boosting our region’s economy.”
Wolf’s executive order states that effective immediately, DCNR is directed to protect the lands of the commonwealth that are held in trust for its citizens and future generations, and unless DCNR advises otherwise, no state park and state forest lands shall be leased for oil and gas development.
State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, who sits on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said she respected the governor’s decision, and that striking a balance between protecting the environment and developing energy resources is important.
“I certainly don’t think state park land should be disturbed on the surface in any way, shape or form,” Snyder said.
However, she said the state’s natural resources need to be developed, to boost Pennsylvania’s economy and help move the nation toward energy independence.
She also said she has seen firsthand the economic benefit of Marcellus Shale in her own backyard. “As a former Greene County commissioner,” said Snyder, “we leased property in order to increase revenue and keep property taxes down. It worked well in Greene County.”