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October 20, 2014

Fracking Pennsylvania's Public Lands


By Robert Gardner, Sierra Club Beyond Natural Gas Campaign

Fracking has exploded throughout the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania. That much is no secret. People around the country have seen the devastation that this extreme form of extraction has caused to communities, peoples' lives, and the landscape of the state. But all around Pennsylvania (and many other states) communities are fighting back -- educating, organizing, litigating, and lobbying their officials. Together, we are taking this fight from the frontlines of the shale fields to the living rooms of America.


What people might know less about is the struggle to keep fracking off of public lands like our state forests and parks. Make no mistake: the gas industry is making a major play to get the fossil fuels out of the ground regardless of whether they have to rip up our favorite local, state, or federal parks and forests.

Such is the case right here in Pennsylvania.


Recently we took to the sky with EcoFlight to look at some of the impacts happening in north-central Pennsylvania. From the air we saw a massive amount of development on the Tiadaghton, Loyalsock, and Sproul State Forests. We could see the large clearings for well pads, staging areas, compressor stations, pipelines, freshwater pits, and all of the trappings of an industrialized forest, like timbering and coal mining.


In Pennsylvania alone, there are more than 2.2 million acres of state-managed forests, of which nearly 1.5 million acres are underlain by the Marcellus Shale formation. Already, more than 700,000 acres are available to industry, and a recent executive order by the administration of Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has opened up park and forest land containing environmentally sensitive features such as wetlands, rare or threatened species, and source water protection areas.


These forested landscapes provide critical habitat for wildlife, important recreational opportunities for millions of people, and are an economic driver for the state of Pennsylvania. The landscapes are vitally important for maintaining the unique character and biodiversity of the state and serve as an important heritage area for generations of future Pennsylvanians.


Make no mistake. The forests of Pennsylvania are at risk of being degraded beyond repair.

What we saw from the air is an ongoing disaster. With some forests drilled at ten to fifteen percent, the impacts are already obvious. Nearly 1,500 acres of forest has been converted for well pads and infrastructure, including some areas of once-contiguous forest that have been fragmented by new development. There are fewer opportunities for remote recreational experiences in forests with gas development. Already we know that incidents including spills of diesel fuel and brine have occurred in state forests.


Unless we fight back -- and we are -- the fracking industry will go after every cubic foot of gas and they will drill wherever enables them to maximize their profits. That's a reality that we at the Sierra Club are just unwilling to accept.

Learn more about the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas campaign and how you can get involved.

All photos by EcoFlight.

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