New Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is continuing to undo moves former Gov. Tom Corbett made during his last year in office.
Wolf appeared at Benjamin Rush State Park in Far Northeast Philadelphia today to sign an order banning fracking in state parkland, reversing a move Corbett made last May. In his first week in office, Wolf voided two dozen “pending executive nominations” Corbett made late in his term. Today’s moratorium, effective immediately, forbids fracking leases on parks and forests owned or managed by the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“Natural gas development is vital to Pennsylvania’s economy, but so is the economic and environmental viability of our parks and forests,” Wolf said. “This is about striking the right balance. Our state parks and forests are unique assets that should be preserved, protected, and utilized by our residents for recreational purposes.”
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a controversial gas-extraction technique that has boomed in popularity in the last decade. While proponents tout the opportunity to create jobs and make America more energy-independent, opponents cite the potential for environmental risks — groundwater contamination, air quality degradation, earthquakes and other health problems. A former Pennsylvania health official said last year the state did not study the effects of fracking on health. New York State banned the practice last month.
Wolf supported fracking during the campaign, saying he would tax it to fund schools, and reiterated his support for fracking after his election. Pennsylvania is the only gas-producing state without an extraction tax.
Anti-fracking advocates welcomed the news, but said it didn’t go far enough. “Today’s decision, just days after hundreds of Pennsylvanians rallied at Governor Wolf’s inauguration for a ban on fracking, is evidence of the power of the movement to stop fracking in our state,” Jenny Lisak, a member of the Pennsylvanians Against Fracking steering committee, said in a release. “Keeping fracking out of state parks is welcomed news, but I am fearful that the negative impacts of this process will be concentrated in communities already being harmed. We must stop fracking around the state.”
“It’s time for Wolf to halt fracking in Pennsylvania,” Liz Arnold, a West Philly anti-fracking activist who rushed the stage at a gubernatorial debate last year at Drexel, said earlier this week. “It’s totally within Wolf’s power to just call a moratorium. He could halt drilling tomorrow if he wanted.… We are blessed to be a very resource-rich state. And, really, our most valuable resources are our people and our clean drinking water. We have a lot of clean water, but that’s literally less by the day, and we’re not even keeping track of how much contamination there is.”