Pennsylvania Governor Minimizes Gas Drilling in State Forests

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, May 12, 2010 (ENS) – The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has finalized a natural gas lease agreement by which the state will meet its need for revenue from drilling next year, while protecting state forests, Governor Edward Rendell said Tuesday.

Under the agreement, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. has paid Pennsylvania $120 million to access 32,896 acres that are surrounded by lands for which drilling companies already hold lease agreements.

Pennsylvania’s Tiadaghton State Forest (Photo by Nicholas T.)

The newly leased acres cover 11 tracts in the Moshannon, Sproul and Tiadaghton state forests where Centre, Clinton and Lycoming counties meet. Because these newly leased tracts can be accessed by gas operations on the adjacent tracts, the amount of new state forest surface area that must be disturbed is minimized.

Other than the agreement, Pennsylvania will not have to make any additional state forest land available to reach its revenue goals for natural gas drilling in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Calling it a “responsible approach,” Governor Rendell said, “We do not need to expand our drilling footprint in state forest lands to meet our revenue goals, because these parcels are already surrounded by other leased acres. They also are within areas leased in the 1970s and 1980s by DCNR, but not all the acreage was drilled because technology wasn’t available to exploit Marcellus Shale deposits.”

The Marcellus Shale is a unit of marine sedimentary rock that extends throughout the Appalachian Basin. The shale contains largely untapped natural gas reserves, and its proximity to eastern high-demand markets make it an attractive target for energy development.

The governor also announced his support for the Save the Forests bill (HB 2235), which would put a freeze on new leases for natural gas drilling in state parks and forests. One-third, or 700,000 acres, of state forest lands already are open for natural gas drilling.

The Save the Forests bill passed the state House with overwhelming bipartisan support, and is now in the hands of the Senate leadership.

“With this agreement negotiated and the money in the bank, we can safely be on board with the moratorium which passed the House and is now in the Senate,” Governor Rendell said. “If the Senate passes the legislation and it comes to my desk, I will sign it.”

The nonprofit Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future welcomed the governor’s actions to protect undisturbed state forests from drilling for natural gas.

“The agreement with Anadarko will diminish the damage to our forest land because this lease involves land that was already available for drilling, and in some cases has already been disturbed by previous shallow well gas drilling,” said Jan Jarrett, president and CEO of PennFuture.

“For now, it will protect the rest of our forest acres which contain sensitive natural resources like habitat for endangered plants and animals, pristine streams and scenic areas from additional invasion from drilling rigs,” said Jarrett. “And the governor’s support of the Save the Forests bill guarantees that our forests will be safe for the next three years if the bill reaches his desk.”

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