Corbett wants to lift ban on new gas drilling in state forests

Posted: February 06, 2014

Gov. Corbett on Tuesday proposed lifting a 2010 moratorium on leasing additional state forests for Marcellus Shale natural-gas development, to generate $75 million for state coffers.

The new gas leases of state forests managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources would not permit any drilling or surface disturbance, said Patrick Henderson, the governor's energy executive. The acreage would be adjacent to public and private lands under existing leases and could be developed using horizonal drilling techniques.

Conservationists expressed skepticism that additional drilling, even if it took place on neighboring lands, could be accomplished without negative consequences for state forests and parks.

"From our point of view, there will be impacts," said Cindy Dunn, the president of PennFuture and a former department executive. Additional drilling will create noise and air pollution, and use water resources for hydraulic-fracturing operations, she said.

Corbett's action would lift a ban put in place by Gov. Ed Rendell during his last months in office in 2010, when state conservation officials said any additional leasing would jeopardize the state's certification for sustainable-forestry practices.

John H. Quigley, former department chief and now a private consultant, expressed skepticism that the state could find enough additional leasable acreage to generate $75 million.

The state last received about $3,000 an acre for Marcellus gas leases, which would mean the department would have to lease an additional 25,000 acres to hit Corbett's budget target.

"It's going to be in the Pennsylvania Wilds," said Quigley, referring to the vast stretch of forests in the northern tier.

Henderson, Corbett's energy executive, said the governor would issue "in due time" a new executive order that prohibited leasing of state park and forest lands in situations that would result in a surface impact or disturbance.

He said the order would also direct future royalty payments for use of state park and forest infrastructure; acquire high-value inholdings (small privately owned tracts that are surrounded by state lands); and purchase privately owned oil and gas rights underlying high-value surface lands owned by the state.

215-854-2947 @maykuth

Inquirer staff writer Amy Worden contributed to this article.

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