Energy. Environment. Economy.

Corbett lifts moratorium on gas leasing of state park and forest land

Tioga State Forest Detrow

Scott Detrow/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Governor Corbett issued an executive order today overturning a 2010 state moratorium on new oil and gas leasing of public park and forest land.

The administration calls the executive order a restrictive approach to expanding drilling.

It allows companies to extract gas horizontally from wells located on adjacent private land or in areas of state forests where leases already exist.

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.

“With this executive order, I am directing that the commonwealth maintain a moratorium on any additional gas leasing of [Department of Conservation and Natural Resources] lands that involves long-term surface disturbance, such as placing well pads, roads or pipelines in the newly-leased areas,” Corbett said in a statement.

“This balanced approach will ensure that the special characteristics and habitats of DCNR lands are conserved and protected, and will also provide for historic investments in conservation programs, our schools and quality health care, without raising taxes on Pennsylvanians.”

Corbett expects the new leasing to raise $75 million immediately, in leasing bonus payments. In the order, he also directs DCNR to spend future royalty revenue on upgrading park and forest infrastructure and acquiring land.

However, it’s not clear he has the legal authority to do that.

Pennsylvania’s fiscal code was amended in 2009. It states that no royalty money from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund may be expended unless appropriated by the General Assembly.

And although the governor’s proposal could allow for more drill rigs, equipment, and truck traffic in public forests, DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti has said the administration does not view that as an additional surface disturbance.

“I know that’s out there– about the increased truck traffic, etcetera,” she said at a February budget hearing. “If a new well bore is permitted, that is not a new or additional surface disturbance. These are old leases that were already executed.”

The state’s main gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition praised the plan as a common-sense approach.

“Safe, tightly-regulated shale development has been, and continues to be, a powerful economic engine for the entire Commonwealth, creating thousands of jobs, especially in our manufacturing sector, and generating huge amounts of tax revenue all while enhancing our environment.” said MSC president Dave Spigelmyer in a statement.

Environmental groups have criticized the plan. PennFuture president Cindy Dunn issued a statement in conjunction with the heads of seven other environmental organizations, calling the plan short-sighted.

“It’s a disappointment,” she says. “We think it’s a big mistake to go forward with this. As with the past leases, this was driven by budgetary needs, not by the sound management of the public trust.”

State Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) also opposes the idea and filed a Right To Know Law request earlier this year seeking more information about the proposal– including how the administration arrived at the $75 million figure.

His request was initially denied, but yesterday the state Office of Open Records sided with him.

“This is all being done in a very non-transparent way. I think it’s despicable. [Corbett] is clearly trying to hide what he’s doing by releasing it at the moment where public attention is at its lowest point,” says Vitali, referring to the timing of the announcement before a holiday weekend.

The governor’s announcement also comes just a few days before a previously scheduled court hearing on the matter.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation is seeking an injunction against the expanded leasing plans and will go before the Commonwealth Court next Wednesday.



  • SLP

    “The state’s main gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition praised the plan as a common-sense approach.”

    Aaand Tom Corbett once again gets on his knees for the gas industry.

    Did you get your campaign funds recently, Governor?

  • Val Burg

    I am furious! I am sick of watching my state be destroyed! This bastard needs to be removed from office, he is a greedy sob and he is NOT representing the people of this state! He is representing his own special interests and that is why he is being a sneaky rat about this. F@#K!

    • Pragmatism Wins

      Being a sneaky rat? This proposal has been out in the media for months now. He’s not allowing any additional surface disturbance. Let me say that again. There will be NO ADDITIONAL DRILLING IN STATE PARKS OR FORESTS. Just under them.

      Governor Rendell leased 130,000 acres of forestland. If you want to be mad at someone, feel free to be mad at the guy that actually DID what you’re mad about. Also, keep in mind that the state forests are supposed to be a strategic resource reserve for the state. They are NOT state parks, which are meant solely for recreation. 100 years ago the state forests were a clear cut catastrophe.Now they are nationally recognized for being sustainably managed. OMG THE STATE IS BEING DESTROYED!!!!

  • Julieann Wozniak

    I’m sure there’s a loophole big enough to shove a drilling rig through. My favorite trout stream, currently pristine, will become toast. Greene County’s Duke Lake, instead of getting its dam repaired, will become a frackers paradise. I demand that a rig be Breathe the crap Bobtown is breathing. Share our cancers and lung disease.

  • NorthernTier

    Is the purpose of the “long-term” (surface disturbance) qualifier to allow for cutting the network of “paths” used by seismic testing equipment? And, why are some of the royalties earmarked for “infrastructure and amenities”, but none for restoration of disturbed areas to native vegetation?

    The is still no clarification of the planned “rules” for accessing lands leased under Corbett’s executive order from lands leased prior to the Rendell moratorium. Will it be possible to get a permit to establish a (new) well pad on previously leased DCNR land from which to drill horizontally under newly leased adjoining land? That is, does the no”additional surface disturbance” restriction apply only to the newly leased land?

    • NorthernTier

      Oops … second paragraph should begin with ‘There’.

  • Jim My

    when will any of you start bitching at the land owners who sold off their rights? Their sitting there rich as shit, and not saying a word, go to that neighbor of yours and bitch at them, what? what? If they hadn’t of sold off their land rights there would be no mess would there……….you all have a good set of double standards in place don’t you.

    • Maggie Henry

      I do it every day, day in and day out. Call them greedy and stupid, stupid for not educating themselves to the process and worse yet…poisoning the community for personal gain. Up here we actually are enduring greedy bastards saying “the land owes them something” and supporting Hilcorp in an unprecedented land grab known as forced pooling. The very same company that caused a series of 10-12 earthquakes while fracking the Utica. Someone please help us stop this!!! PENNSYLVANIA better wake up to this ASAP!

    • Pragmatism Wins

      Forget about bitching about the landowner. Let’s bitch at the people that actually cause the demand for the product. Do you use natural gas Jim?

  • NorthernTier

    A Corbett spokesman has been quoted as saying that the new DCNR leases will be for a $3,000/acre bonus and 18% royalty. And, rather than the DCNR offering parcels, the DCNR will individually evaluate sites proposed by operators. Some simple “back of the envelope” arithmetic raises the question of how this all could be accomplished to deliver the promised $75M on schedule.

    $75M/$3,000 = 25,0000 acres to be leased. Assuming 80-90 acres per well and 6 wells per unit, that’s approximately 50 6-well units to be evaluated, the leases executed, and the $$ collected. Really?

    • Josh

      80 to 90 acres per well…? I admire your focus on hard numbers, which is what sound policy is built on, but well pads require 3-4 acres at most. And then each pad has 8-15 wells. So the actual surface impact is MUCH lower than either traditional / conventional gas drilling, or than the numbers you suggest. One of the reasons I so strongly support shale gas drilling is that the ratio of surface disturbance to resource removed is incredibly low/ high. It’s extremely efficient and low impact. If you actually care about the environment, then this is what you want.

  • debra

    We moved from a very heavily fracked area of Pa after severe(fracking) pollution in our water & a child who became seriously ill directly because of it. We watched/heard an injection well explode, saw them scrambling trying to clean the horrendous mess. Then we watched our cattle farmer neighbor, drag dead calf ,after dead calf from his pasture & several dead cows that following spring. We moved and are SICK to learn they just began new drilling right beside us (on state lands). It’s so close we can hear the equipment running. Right directly across from our public elementary school. I will be in Harrisburg on June 17th. Why should everyone, their animals & our wildlife suffer while Corbett & his family get filthy rich? PLEASE, stand up and be heard! Please come to Harrisburg on June 17th. Fracking pollution lasts forever. What are we leaving for our children?

    • Maggie Henry

      Hard to click like but the truth is here in black letters!

  • Maggie Henry

    Just how much more of this are we going to put up with? Poisoning our land, air and water so multi nationals can make big bucks on the international market! Remember when an industry talking point was energy independence attempting to make a person out to be unpatriotic if you opposed fracking? Stop the madness!

  • vonrock

    How does such an idiot have this kind of power ? Are there people in your state ?
    You let oil invade YOUR PARKS. Too busy watching TV, eating, sleeping, too care.

    • Pragmatism Wins

      How do you invade a state park without even going into it? Are you nuts? We have this amazing technology where we can drain the gas out from underneath the forest without disturbing the forest…. and even THAT’S not good enough for you? Stop using energy. Right now. There is no compromise that you should be able to live with, if you can’t live with this.

      • vonrock

        Amazing, how come EVERYWHERE else they make a mess of the land, air and water ? I hope their not counting on you for much.

  • Josh

    I’m unclear how horizontal drilling from existing pads is an impact on public land. Don’t we want horizontal drilling and limited surface impacts? Seems some groups want zero drilling, except when a governor they like is in office. Rendell got away with all kinds of drilling on public lands, raiding the Oil & Gas Fund for unrelated expenditures etc. But if Corbett does anything, he’s criticized. Pretty obviously partisan groups. Not the fair-minded arbiters of facts they represent themselves to be. Glad to see the gas $ go back into public land acquisition, where it should’ve been since Rendell changed it.

  • NorthernTier

    Straw-man; I indicated my numbers were “back of the envelope” and “approximately”, not “hard” numbers. I’m not going to quibble about unit size. The 80-90 acres per well is typical of (at least) one county where there is drilling on state forest land.

    Nor did I say anything about surface disturbance. What I was questioning was how – using the Corbett team numbers – 25,000 acres of DCNR land could be responsibly evaluated for environmental impact in time to plug the $75M revenue hole in the upcoming budget.

  • NorthernTier

    From the DCNR website:
    “Non-Surface Disturbance Leasing of DCNR Lands Fact Sheet”
    … Natural gas would be accessed through surface activity which occurs on private, adjacent lands or from well pad sites which already exist or are planned under pre-existing leases. …”

    It was a surprise to find no details of the DCNR’s application and evaluation process for the new leases. What I expected within a few days of the Executive Order was something like the DCNR’s “Requesting Right-Of-Ways on State Forest Lands” web page(s).

  • upset

    means nothing… he will not get re-elected again. the gas the gas companies take from the wells go to China. The electricity created by the windmills go to the big cities. I wish my electric bill would go down with
    all the windmills in my area, or bring the gas lines to my house. he raises the gas tax at the pumps but doesn’t tax the natural gas drillers. Tax the natural gas drillers and take away the tax at the gas pumps. he is a rat who just wants to get re-elected. Not with my vote.

  • Deb Dean

    Vote Tom Ridge out of office. He does not care about our state lands .

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