DCNR monitors shale drilling amid pandemic
HARRISBURG — The Wolf Administration recognized the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Bureau of Forestry for ongoing efforts to monitor the environmental and natural resource impacts of shale gas drilling on state forest land during the COVID-19 pandemic, and finding new ways to inform the public about monitoring efforts.
“COVID-19 safety efforts in March forced us to postpone the annual after winter return of DCNR staff to the field to monitor the impacts of drilling,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. “These foresters and forest technicians have really been working hard to get back on track, while taking the appropriate precautions. They understand the need and the importance of the monitoring program, and the need for consistency and precision in the measurements that we take.”
While teleworking from March to May, the foresters and forest technicians – Brett Pifer, Dale Gower, Anthony Haynie, Laurie Nau, Sharon Morris and Matthew Boyer – were able to update field manuals, organize and update data files, database applications and ways that monitoring information is stored and analyzed.
The Shale Gas Monitoring Team — Deric Case (Plant Specialist), Kelly Sitch (Plant Specialist), John Brodnicki (GIS Specialist), Nate Reagle (Wildlife Specialist), Marty Lentz (Infrastructure Specialist), Gerald Hoy (Social Specialist), Jim Julian (Data Analyst), Jason Ditty (Assistant Program Manager) and Shawn Lehman (Program Manager) — also created and are now releasing the Shale Gas Monitoring Story Map to provide information to the public about the impacts of gas drilling in state forest lands in a much more timely and understandable manner.
The monitoring story map includes data on infrastructure, water, invasive plants and recreation among other forest values.
Once able to be back out in the field in May, DCNR staff accomplished the following:
• Visited 130 water sampling sites, with another 20 to go this season;
• Sampled at 23 of the 25 macroinvertebrate collection sites on the schedule;
• Conducted assessments on 107 roads used by drilling operations in seven forest districts;
• Did post-construction stormwater surveys on 12 roads and five pads;
• Conducted sound measurements in five forest districts and leaf-on and leaf-off sound measurements at 12 natural gas compressor stations; and
• Completed invasive species surveys on 58 well pads in six forest districts and performed 44 rapid treatment responses.
“Invasive species continue to be the biggest issue we face with shale gas development,” Dunn said. “Based on what we’ve learned through monitoring, DCNR has implemented early detection and rapid response to address invasive species related to gas development, taking action when the plants are encountered.”
Field staff take precautions to ensure they are following pandemic safety measures by:
• Traveling to field locations alone in their vehicles;
• Physical distancing in the field;
• Sanitizing equipment; and
• Wearing masks when in proximity of other staff or the public.
Dunn noted that gas drilling on state forest land has slowed, with very small amounts of land converted to infrastructure. Only about 35 percent of the current shale gas lease sites on state forest land have been built out.