Hikers Enlisted to Monitor Drilling Violations on Area Nature
Washington PA Observer Reporter
13 May 2012
By Christie Campbell, Staff writer
People who hike Pennsylvania trails are being tapped for
assistance in monitoring the natural gas drilling industry.
With 3.5 million hikers in Pennsylvania, it is hoped that the men
and women who regularly use the trails will report possible
drilling violations as well as other trail violations, such as the
illegal use of mountain bikes, all-terrain vehicles or snowmobiles
on areas marked only for hiking or on state forest roads.
The website Fractracker.org, operated by the Community Foundation
for the Alleghenies to collect data on Marcellus Shale drilling,
is providing a way for people to report problems on trails in
Pennsylvania by downloading a form to report an incident.
These incident reports will be forwarded to the Keystone Trails
Association, which will review them and report any irregularities
to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
However, a DCNR spokeswoman noted it is the state Department of
Environmental Protection that regulates the gas drilling industry.
The DCNR leases state forest land for drilling and would enforce
the lease if there were problems, she said.
Curt Ashenfelter, executive director of the KTA, said the
association began hearing anecdotal comments about hikers running
into problems while using the trails. Ashenfelter himself was told
by a security guard for a drilling company that he was not
permitted on the Mid State Trail in northcentral Pennsylvania.
Ashenfelter said he had an amicable conversation with a guard, who
finally permitted him to use the trail, but he wonders whether
others would have been deterred.
"Maybe someone else would be intimidated and would turn around and
go home," he said in a telephone interview.
Brook Lenker, who maintains Fractracker's website, said a web post
about a trail impact got him thinking about a way to determine the
scale of impacts. He approached Ashenfelter with the idea of
providing a forum for people to make reports.
"We're not out to make any assumptions," he said, noting the
incidents could be very small.
Ashenfelter agreed there are hikers who may not be familiar with
local or state regulations for the drilling industry. For that
reason, the KTA will review any incidents prior to forwarding them
to the DCNR.
"There is certainly an education process here, and not everyone
knows the rules and regulations, so people will be reporting what
they think is a problem that may not be a problem," he said.
Fractracker's purpose is to collect data on gas drilling that
could have an impact on the environment, public health or
communities. According to its website, the Heinz Endowments has
provided it with $1.5 million in funding, and the William Penn
Foundation provided it with a $300,000 grant.
The association has a vested interest in all hiking trails in the
state, which include 10,000 miles of trails and 3,000 miles of
long-distance trails. Locally, that would include the Warrior
Trail in Greene County. But the association is also concerned with
trails located in county parks and municipalities.
"When we heard the state was going to lease 700,000 acres of land
to gas drillers, it made sense that there were going to be impacts
on hiking trails," Ashenfelter said.
Another way hikers are being tapped for information has to do with
issues unrelated to the gas drilling industry. For example, ATVs
and snowmobiles must have a registration plate, and those
operating them are required to wear helmets and stick to
designated trails. Ashenfelter said hikers have reported damage to
walking trails from motorized vehicles in the past, and most
trails are not suitable even for mountain bikes.
The gas drilling industry has provided volunteer labor for trail
upgrades and maintenance as well as financial assistance,
Another way the industry is making a financial impact can be seen
in Wellsboro, the home of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. For
years, the little town in Tioga County welcomed the 150 hikers who
came to hike the canyon each spring because they provided an
economic boost to the town. Much of that has changed now,
Ashenfelter said. Gas workers now occupy the town's hotel
year-round, and other lodges have been constructed, bringing a new
prosperity to the town.