Pennsylvania parks a major source of revenue – for recreation and natural gas

By Anthony Hennen

Pennsylvania’s state parks and game lands boost the state’s economy, livability, and attraction for future generations, top officials from the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources said.

Testifying in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, Senators focused on the economic potential of state parks and developing natural gas to provide for the Department’s $1.4 billion in infrastructure needs.

Royalty payments from oil and gas companies could be a way to cover some of those needs, noted Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport. Yaw brought up that royalties hit a peak of $277 million in 2009-10 and asked what’s stopping the department from raising more revenue in this way.

“The bigger question might be ‘where is the industry?’” Secretary of DCNR Cindy Adams Dunn said. “Interestingly, of the leases we currently have, only one-third of them (the land mass) is developed. So the companies can make a decision today to go in and develop 65% more of the leased land today.”

Companies already own the mineral rights for land leased to them, but “complicating factors,” Dunn noted, affects the decisions to develop the land. “Aside from any moratorium … that’s the big part of the question.”

If demand and prices increase, it could drive royalty payments up.

“The point is, you have an asset, you’re sitting on it and we’re not using it. It’s self-help,” Yaw said. “I’m just not sure why we don’t do that” to cover the infrastructure repairs.

“Towards your point, with the leaseholders we have, we’ve developed a good relationship, and they would probably say we’re tough, but fair,” Dunn said. “We’ve exercised some flexibility and a lot more activity … we’re gonna blow past the revenue number in this year’s budget.”

Pandemic-related changes among the public could also help the department’s budget long-term, Dunn noted.

“Reservations have remained higher even this year, which insinuates to us that people bought camping equipment … they’re showing up, they’re coming back, and we’ve just seen a resurgence in the outdoors,” Dunn said.

When COVID-19 first hit, about 46 million people flocked to Pennsylvania’s state parks. That has dropped to 42 million last year, but it remains higher than numbers pre-pandemic. The department expects to stay at this higher plateau.

Outdoor recreation brings in $12 billion to the Commonwealth’s GDP, Dunn noted. 

“We hold an important part of the key to a bright future for Pennsylvania,” Dunn said.

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