A New Proposal: Fund Environmental Efforts By Leasing Out More State Land For Drilling

  • Scott Detrow

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A Tioga County well pad

With a broad-based natural gas severance tax politically unfeasible, given Governor Corbett’s veto threat, environmental advocates are trying to figure out how to fund statewide cleanup and green space programs with drilling-based income.
The latest suggestion comes from former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Hess, in an interview with Capitolwire. His idea? Lease out additional state-owned land – but NOT forest or park land – for drilling, and dedicate the ensuing bonus and royalty payments to funds like Growing Greener.
You need a Capitolwire subscription to read the entire article, but here’s the relevant section:

HARRISBURG (Sept. 21) – One of the biggest questions yet to be resolved regarding this fall’s Marcellus Shale bill negotiations is how to fund various environmental programs.
Former Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) secretary David Hess said “a three-legged stool” approach was needed to find alternative revenue sources. Those three legs of the stool, Hess aid, were: opening drilling to new state-owned land around highways, prisons and owned by other state agencies, not state forestland; royalties from existing state forestland leases, and a drilling fee. He said they would be enough to fund the various programs.

One of his DEP successors, John Hanger, disagreed, saying a drilling tax is the only way to fully fund those programs.
Hess elaborated on the least-known of his three-part proposal: leasing drilling rights on rights-of-way owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), as well as other properties owned by the welfare and corrections departments, and other agencies. Those gas rights leases would become a revenue stream to fund statewide environmental programs like Growing Greener, Hess said.
“To me, drilling on state-owned land other than state forests has a lot of potential,” Hess said Wednesday in a phone interview.
Under current law, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission are the only agencies legally allowed to lease state property. However, Hess said a bill moving through the Senate would allow the Department of General Services (DGS) and the State System of Higher Education to lease other state-owned land. Hess estimated up to 100,000 acres may be lease-able.

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