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.