State Forests

Our State Forests provide a tremendous public asset, protecting our highest quality streams, providing public recreation, providing tourism opportunities, and supporting a sustainable timber economy.

Mineral resource extraction has been occurring on state forest lands for several decades. In 1947, DCNR issued its first oil and gas lease. Since than, more than 1600 oil and gas wells have been drilled on state forests, generating more than $300 million. Until the start of Marcellus Shale exploration, the gas wells drilled in state forests were shallow wells.

Seventy-one percent (71%) or 1.5 million acres of Pennsylvania’s state forests are over the Marcellus formation.  Nearly half (700,000 acres) of this acreage  has already been leased.  This includes 410,000 acres where the state owns the subsurface oil and gas rights, and 290,000 where the subsurface oil and gas rights are in private ownership. The state has essentially no authority to control drilling on the forestlands where it does not own the gas rights. A moratorium on any additional state forest land leasing has been in place since October 2010.

Industry projections suggest between 900 and 2,200 well pads could be developed across all state lands, with most occurring on state forest lands. This development includes the well pad, access roads and additional infrastructure such as pipelines and storage facilities.  Well pads occupy 3.1 acres on average while the associated infrastructure (roads, water impoundments, pipelines) takes up an additional 5.7 acres, or a total of nearly 9 acres per well pad.   Forestland adjacent to land cleared for drilling is also impacted. Forest fragmentation decreases the ability of different animals and plants to survive, increases the ability of invasive species to take over areas of the forest, and decreases the ability of forests near streams to filter water. The use of unpaved access roads increases sedimentation in nearby streams, which raises water temperature, alters stream beds, impairs spawning and smothers aquatic insects. Soils are impacted from truck traffic and well pad and tire ruts created during pipeline construction & maintenance can redirect waterflow, causing erosion and sedimentation in our streams.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) manages our state forests and is responsible for achieving a balance between these many uses, including the extraction of oil and natural gas. Our public foresters work diligently to achieve sustainable forest management certification of our state forests. DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry manages state forests “under sound ecosystem management, to retain their wild character and maintain biological diversity while providing pure water, opportunities for low density recreation, habitats for forest plants and animals, sustained yields of quality timber, and environmentally sound utilization of mineral resources.”