A statewide coalition of environmental groups held a rally today opposing Governor Corbett’s proposal to expand leasing of state parks and forests for natural gas drilling.
They marched from the capitol rotunda to Corbett’s office to deliver a petition opposing the plan.
The rally was timed to coincide with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources appearing before the House Appropriations committee.
DCNR secretary Ellen Ferretti told lawmakers Corbett’s proposal will not allow for any new or additional surface impacts to public lands.
“Each and every [leasing] proposal will be evaluated to make sure it adheres to this directive,” she said.
Former Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, leased about 130,000 acres of state forest land before he instituted a moratorium on future leasing during his last year in office.
Governor Corbett says he plans to issue a new executive order, under which companies could not build new well pads on state land. Instead, they could access gas by drilling horizontally underground from private property that’s adjacent to public land, or add new wells to existing well pads on state land.
Although Corbett’s proposal could allow for more drill rigs, equipment, and truck traffic in state forests, Ferretti says she doesn’t view that as an additional surface disturbance.
“I know that’s out there– about the increased truck traffic, etcetera,” she said. “If a new well bore is permitted, that is not a new or additional surface disturbance. These are old leases that were already executed.”
Environmental groups argue the process of extracting more gas will inevitably create additional impacts.
“We’re always concerned about things that go awry,” says Karen Feridun of Berks Gas Truth. “We’re concerned about things that happen with respect to blowouts– that just happened in Greene County. These pollutants don’t respect property lines.”
Rep. Seth Grove (R- York) called the idea of referring to truck traffic a surface disturbance “hogwash.”
“With that kind of argument, you come back and say, ‘a squirrel digs a hole and plants a nut, you’re affecting surface activity’,” he said. “To make those legal arguments is just inaccurate. I appreciate the governor’s stance to try to minimize impacts to our state forests.”