Pennsylvania’s new Governor Tom Wolf will sign an executive order Thursday banning the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in state parks and forests, the Associated Press reports.
The order will reverse a policy implemented in 2014 by notoriously fracking-friendly former Gov. Tom Corbett, which opened up state parks and forests to the controversial well stimulation technique. Wolf — who was sworn in as governor less than two weeks ago — had promised in his campaign to reverse that decision.
Corbett’s policy read that drilling could happen anywhere so long as the actual surface of state public lands were not disturbed. If oil and gas companies wanted to obtain gas from underneath public lands, they had to either lease adjacent private land and drill horizontally, or drill from state forest areas that had been previously leased for oil and gas development. According to NPR, approximately 385,400 acres of state land has already been leased to drillers, and another 290,000 acres where the state does not own the mineral rights are currently under development.
The ban on fracking in state parks and forests is a huge deal for Pennsylvania, both for the pro-fracking crowd and environmentalists. Pennsylvania’s fracking boom has fueled its economy for years, but the state has also seen its fair share of environmental problems, including 243 cases of contaminated private drinking water wells across 22 counties. Because approximately two thirds of Pennsylvania’s state forests sit atop Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits, proponents saw opening up the land as an unprecedented economic opportunity, while opponents saw the potential destruction of some of the state’s most treasured natural beauty.
“We don’t need to fragment the best quality forest we have in Pennsylvania to heat our homes,” Paul Zeph of the Pennsylvania Audubon Society told NPR back in 2013. “There are other decisions we can make.”