A top official at the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said he advised the Corbett administration against leasing additional public land for natural gas development.
During testimony today before the state Commonwealth Court, DCNR Deputy Secretary for Parks and Forests, Dan Devlin, said he first learned of Governor Corbett’s plan to expand gas drilling in public parks and forests a few days before the executive budget was announced in February.
During discussions with the Governor’s Budget Office last fall, Devlin says he advised against additional leasing.
“We told them there was interest out there, and we didn’t recommend they move forward.”
Devlin’s testimony marked the end of a three-day court hearing that was part of a lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (PEDF). The environmental group is attempting to block the Corbett administration from opening up more public land to gas development.
Former Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, leased about 130,000 acres of state forest land to gas companies, before he instituted a moratorium on future leasing during his last year in office. Last month Corbett lifted the moratorium in an effort to raise $75 million for this year’s budget.
PEDF is seeking a preliminary injunction to halt additional leasing of public land.
Devlin told the court he is comfortable with Corbett’s plan.
“As long as there is no surface disturbance, and we have control of the lease,” he said.
Under the governor’s new executive order, drillers would not be allowed to create any new or additional surface disturbances, such as roads, wellpads, or pipelines.
Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson asked if anyone at DCNR has recommended further leasing of state land for oil and gas development.
“I don’t believe anyone has made a recommendation,” Devlin said.
He declined to comment further to reporters after his testimony concluded, citing the ongoing litigation.
The hearing comes amid the final weeks of negotiation over the state budget, which is due June 30th. It’s not clear when the judge will issue a decision about the injunction.