Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Marcellus Memos: Privately, Rendell’s State Forest tsars expressed deep concern over leasing state forest for drilling

A few days ago, we reported (and the Inquirer re-reports today) that Governor Rendell is considering authorizing yet another lease of state forest land for drilling into the Marcellus Shale, a geologic structure containing billions (if not trillions) of dollars worth of natural gas.

If he does, it will be the third such sale in three years –before 2008, state land hadn't been leased for drilling since 2002.

There are a few reasons to ask whether this is a good move. For one thing, fully one-third of our state forest has already been leased for drilling. For another, while only four Marcellus wells are currently active on forest land right now, at least 40 wells are expected to be in production by the end of the year and DCNR officials say that we could see over a thousand in the next decade – all that on land already leased.

We have, in other words, barely begun to see what impact drilling will have on the state forests already leased – leasing even more of it now could be risky indeed.

But don't take my word for it: Rendell's own state forest officials have made their concerns very clear – albeit mostly in private.

Memos and emails obtained by City Paper show that both former DCNR Secretary Michael Diberardinis and Acting Secretary John Quigley have repeatedly cautioned Rendell against leasing additional state forest for Marcellus Shale drilling.

So, in a CP exclusive, we bring you excerpts from said documents in . . . The Marcellus Memos

Background: in 2008, Governor Rendell authorized the first leasing of state forest for gas drilling since 2002. He did so at the suggestion of then-Secretary Michael DiBerardinis, who suggested leasing the land as a way of preventing the state legislature, hungry for revenue, from usurping the authority to do so from DCNR.

Perhaps to Diberardinis' surprise (he has declined comment), Rendell shortly thereafter asked DCNR to perform yet another leasing of state forest for drilling. On March 11, 2009, Rendell's office announced Sec. DiBerardinis' resignation. The following memo (abridged) was written just a week before Mr. DiBerardinis' last day of work.

Memo – March 27, 2009, Sec. DiBerardinis to Gov. Rendell

"Wholesale leasing will damage our State Forest landscape. It would scar the economic, scenic, ecological, and recreational values of the forest – especially the most wild and remote areas of our state in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Your years of work and investments in rural economic revitalization through outdoor experiences in the Pennsylvania Wilds could be erased."

" . . . A rush to drill threatens the certification of our State Forests as sustainably managed. . . Our ability to sustainably manage our State Forests is threatened by unplanned, excessive leasing activity."

". . . Finally, and perhaps most important of all is the environmental legacy you want to leave. I'm deeply concerned that your tireless work [for the environment] will be in jeopardy with large scale leasing."

"One hundred years ago, the land that would become the state's forests was a denuded landscape that was scarred by rampant resource extraction. Our State Forest system – the largest swath of publicly owned land east of the Mississippi River – grew from a visionary effort to reclaim this landscape and restore to Pennsylvania's citizens their natural birthright . . . A rush to drill places the state forest and all its benefits at great risk. . . "


Background: In this email, Acting Sec. Quigley says that DCNR is comfortable leasing only 40,000 more acres for Marcellus Shale drilling. As you'll see int he next email, within 2 days, Rendell's staff would ask DCNR to double that acreage.

Email – May 4, 2009, Acting Sec. John Quigley to Gov. Rendell

"It is important to emphasize that we cannot lease 620,000 more acres. We are approaching questionable territory with future lease sales. We are comfortable with a maximum of 40K acres for an additional lease sale . . ."


Background: Pennsylvania is one of just a handful of forests in the United States certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as a sustainable forest. Here, Acting Secretary John Quigley warns Rendell that that certification could be in danger if more state forest is leased.

Memo – May 6, 2009, Acting Sec. John Quigley to Scott Roy, Mary Soderberg (Gov. Rendell's office)

"You have asked DCNR to be prepared to offer at least a total of 80,000 acres of state forest lands for Marcellus gas development in 2009. . ."

"I want to be very explicit about the situation that this will place us in. These would likely be the last gas lease sales on State Forest land that we could manage within the context of our sustainable certification for the foreseeable future."



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