Energy. Environment. Economy.

Corbett Official Wants To See More Drilling In State Forests

Tim Lambert / WITF-FM

A Lycoming County drilling rig

Governor Corbett’s Secretary of Economic and Community Development, Alan Walker, predicts increased drilling in Pennsylvania’s state forests could bring in “close to $60 billion” over the next three decades. “”That allows us to solve just about every economic problem we have that is hanging out there, including un-funded pension liability, infrastructure problems,” he told Capitolwire ($).

Walker sat on the governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which suggested a cautious approach, when it comes to drilling in the forests. “Any future leasing…should be limited to agreements which result in no or minimal surface impact to Commonwealth-owned land, and prohibits surface disturbance in high conservation value forests and other ecologically important areas,” read one of its recommendations.

Right now, royalties from drilling in state forests go into Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund, which is used to purchase and maintain state land. The commission urged lawmakers to reconsider the money’s distribution.

Pennsylvania has already leased out 700,000 acres of forest for gas drilling. That’s about half of the 1.5 million acres that sit on top of the Marcellus Shale formation, but a 2010 Department of Conservation and Natural Resources review of drilling warned any additional leasing would threaten vulnerable wildlife and vegetation.

Walker seems to feel differently. He told Capitolwire, “The way the drilling platforms are being set up today – where you may only have to have one pad every so many square miles – it’s a minimum impact on the state forest property, and in a matter of a couple years, it’s going to be re-vegetated.”

Walker worked for years as a coal mogul, and aggressively fought government regulations, during his days as an energy executive. ProPublica took a long look at his background in an April report.

State records show that in the 1980s and 1990s Walker’s companies were ordered to treat wastewater that was contaminating residential drinking water wells and nearby streams. In Rush Township mines drained into streams, polluting the municipal water supply for the nearby town of Houtzdale, as well as Mountain Branch, a stocked trout stream.

In an email, a DCED spokesman told ProPublica that mining is a dirty business and that Walker had met his legal responsibilities.

In 2003, Walker told the DEP that his companies, which were winding down operations, could no longer afford to treat wastewater. After he threatened to stop treating the waste sites, he reached a summary settlement with the state: He and his insurance companies contributed to a $7.2 million cleanup trust, and the state released him from his treatment responsibilities. The settlement, which he signed on Oct. 2, 2003, included a statement describing the harm his companies had done to water resources over the years. Walker said recently that he never intended to stop treating the wastewater, and that his stance at the time was merely a negotiating tactic.



  • James

    good thing fracking kills trees! soon we won’t even need to worry about forests and fresh water supply. the profits-to-be-made will be private, and the risk will be socialized. PA universities: you are next

  • David Meiser

    Sierra Club Response To DCED Secretary Walker’s Comments About Unlimited State Forest Gas Leasing

    Today we learned that Alan Walker, Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) says opening up the remaining publicly-owned state forests to gas drilling will solve all the Commonwealth’s economic problems. In an article by Peter DeCoursey, published in Capitolwire, Walker claims that leasing gas on our remaining state forests could generate $60 billion in state revenue over the next 30 years. This is significantly more revenue than even the most optimistic industry projections. Walker also claims in the article that there would be minimal impact on the forests, which would be revegetated in “a couple years”. This is not consistent with the legacy of abandoned wells and unvegetated land from gas drilling in the Commonwealth. In addition, Gas pipelines, roads, and compressor stations will all remain as long as gas is being produced and inevitably have an impact.

    Currently, nearly 700,000 acres of state forests are available for gas drilling. In 2010, Governor Rendell signed an Executive Order establishing a moratorium on additional state forest gas leasing. DCNR has studied the issue and confirmed that no additional state forests lands can be leased for gas drilling without unacceptable environmental harm.
    Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter Director responded to Walker’s comments: “Clearly, Secretary Walker does not acknowledge the harmful impacts of gas drilling in our forests. We have seen first hand the effects of industrialization of our forests: clear-cutting, water and air pollution, wildlife habitat fragmentation, the destruction of forest roads by the massive trucks. Already, tourists, hunters, and fishermen are abandoning our state forests and parks in drilling country, choosing more pristine areas, such as in New York where drilling on public lands is banned.”

    “We call on Governor Corbett to maintain the current moratorium on additional state forest gas leasing,” Schmidt continued. “We also call on DCNR Secretary Allan to publicly state whether he agrees with Secretary Walker’s comments. We need to know if Secretary Walker is now making land management policy for our state’s public lands management agency. We believe that land management decisions should be made by trained professionals with scientific studies, not through ill-informed personal opinions.”

  • Julieann Wozniak

    Secretary Walker needs to leave his cushy Harrisburg office and tour Greene and Washington counties, talk to people who livesd around Marcellus activity, and observe first hand the negative impacts wells and related structures have on land and human health. If he can escape his industry handlers, he’ll discover that the impacts aren’t pretty. And it’s no wonder that we feel we can’t trust Harrisburg to look after our interests.

  • RGT

    Lease ALL the land and become the Alaska of the lower 48 states. According to a study two years ago if we leased all the PA state forest lands and picked up the state minimum royalty from the gas production we could eliminate the state income tax and send dividend distribution checks to every resident.

    A friend leased her 150 acres last year and got $2,000 per acre ($300k) and 1/8th royalty. With all the money she’s making she is not complaining about the temporary road congestion or the temporary road put onto her property. Her water is fine, her neighbors finally have jobs, and her town is thriving. Is there a problem here?

    So why are we putting patently false environmental concerns in front of economic activity in a state that is struggling financially?

  • Wayneroyer

    i would like to know why everyone is coming down on joe paterno. i heard you were on the board at penn state. you dont think that the board didnt know what was  going on, come on, the public isnt stupid. every time theres something in the paper its always about joe, not sandusky. and another thing about the players at penn state, why are they being punished, they didnt have anything to to do with it. thats my opinion on this subject, take it or leave it. wayne r. 

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