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Report Details Effects of Gas Drilling

The effects of natural gas drilling under state forests aren’t being ignored, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

The department’s first Shale Gas Monitoring Report, released Wednesday, outlines its efforts through 2012 to monitor the impacts of gas development on water, air, energy, forest health, soils and wildlife.

“Monitoring doesn’t necessarily give you answers. It’s really a series of measurements taken over time,” DCNR spokeswoman Christina Novak said. “But it does give us data to be used toward decision making. We already have and will continue to make adjustments based on our observations.”

Among its findings, the monitoring revealed that shale gas production has not affected water quality and that 1,486 acres of state forestland have been converted through 2012 to facilitate drilling. Leasing of forestland generated $582 million from 2008-12.

But the impact of drilling on the forests can be controlled, according to Novak.

“Gas development on state forestlands is neither benign – there are impacts – nor catastrophic,” Novak said. “Those impacts are manageable and the Bureau of Forestry is on the ground every day doing that.”

PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy group, released a statement about the report Wednesday. CEO Cindy Dunn said the report “raises more questions than it answers,” and that the leasing of forestland to drillers needs to stop.

PennFuture Vice President John Norbeck said the department’s report reveals there is already damage to the ecosystem with 570 wells. He questions what the damage will be when the number of wells increases.

“The commonwealth really does need to slow down and look at this from a long term perspective,” Norbeck said. “This is not a gas rush. This stuff is going to be there. We need to be smart as a commonwealth in how that’s extracted.“

Currently, there are approximately 700,000 acres of state forestland available to be leased for drilling.