As part of his state’s overall budget for the coming fiscal year, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has proposed lifting a 4-year-old ban on gas drilling in state parks and forests, saying leasing those public lands to private companies would bring an additional $75 million in new revenue to the state.
Though Corbett didn’t specifically talk about his proposal to lift the ban during his public presentation of his $29.4 billion spending plan Tuesday, he did talk up the benefit of reaping fossil fuels from the Marcellus Shale — an essential act if Pennsylvania is to become the second-largest producer of natural gas in the nation, according to NPR.
“Shale gas offers our country a chance at energy independence and greater economic security,” Corbett said, noting the state could also derive a substantial amount of additional royalty revenue in the future from the gas produced on state land. “It’s part of the all-of-the-above strategy we’ve put in place.”
The last time drilling was allowed on Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests was in 2010, when former state Gov. Ed Rendell leased more than 700,000 acres of state forest land. Afterward, Rendell signed an executive order to put a moratorium on additional leasing.
The executive order, however, is fragile — Corbett could undo the ban with the stroke of a pen. Because of this, state lawmakers have attempted to make the ban more permanent. In March, Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) introduced a bill which, if passed, would have permanently banned the leasing of additional state forest land for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
“Pennsylvania has already made about half of its state forestland available for drilling,” Vitali said when announcing his bill, noting that 559 gas wells had already been drilled in Pennsylvania state forests. “The remaining 800,000 acres have old growth forests, fragile ecosystems, and habitats for rare and endangered species. We need to protect this land for future generations.”
Though Vitali’s bill has 34 co-sponsors and bipartisan support, it has so far not made it out of committee. That bill would not affect drilling on private land, nor would it prevent drilling on the more those 700,000 acres of state forest that Rendell had already leased.
Following Corbett’s proposal, non-profit advocacy organization PennFuture condemned it, warning of the dangers of exchanging long-term natural beauty for a short-term cash cow.
“In announcing that he seeks to lift a three-year-old moratorium to expand leasing of public lands for gas development, the governor reveals the short-sighted nature of his stewardship of our natural resources by trading more long-term harm to our state parks and forests in return for short-term economic gain,” PennFuture President Cindy Dunn said in a statement. “We are increasingly concerned that absent a healthy economy and responsible drilling tax on natural gas development, Governor Corbett is making the general fund reliant on the rapid exploitation of resources that he should, instead, be conserving for this and future generations.”