FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Eighty legislators tell Corbett no more state forest drilling leases
HARRISBURG, March 2 – Eighty state representatives today urged Gov. Tom Corbett not to lease any more state forestland above the Marcellus Shale for natural gas drilling because "all of the remaining unleased acreage is environmentally sensitive and drilling will have irreversible and harmful consequences."
The legislators signed a letter written by state Rep. Greg Vitali urging Corbett to reconsider his plans to lift a leasing moratorium that has been in place since late last year.
"About 725,000 of the 1.5 million acres of state forest above the Marcellus Shale play are already available to gas drillers, and that's too much," said Vitali, D-Delaware. "The remaining acreage includes old growth forests, high-value ecosystems and habitats for rare and endangered species."
The letter was sent less than a week before the governor's budget address. A recent news report said Corbett may propose leasing a large part of the remaining 800,000 acres of forestland above the Marcellus Shale, and allow legislators to reduce it to 50,000 or 100,000 acres.
“It is important that we approach the issue of leasing additional public lands from an environmental perspective, rather than a budgeting perspective,” said state Rep. Mike Hanna, House Democratic Whip who represents portions of Clinton and Centre counties. “Even though expansion of the natural gas drilling industry could provide an economic boom to Pennsylvania, our state forests remain an irreplaceable natural resource, and the leasing of additional, environmentally-sensitive lands could have harmful and irreversible consequences.”
"While we don’t want Pennsylvania to be left behind in terms of the energy and jobs that natural gas drilling can provide, ravaging our state forests isn’t the way to go," said state Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York. "Without the right balance, this will no doubt destroy our tourism industry in the long term, hurting many small businesses in rural Pennsylvania.”
“The environmental degradation that gas drilling has already caused in Pennsylvania has gotten national attention in recent days,” said state Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery. “To open up more forest land for drilling would be irresponsible stewardship of our public lands. The negative impact that these policies will have for our communities is great, and the impact on our state’s image will be great. The nation is watching what we do here in Pennsylvania.”
"It seems far more logical for the Commonwealth to generate revenue while protecting the environment through the drilling tax bill Representative Vitali has proposed than to destroy state forests with additional leases," said state Rep. Michael Gerber, D-Montgomery.
Pennsylvania is the only major natural gas producing state that does not have a drilling tax or fee.
The lawmakers in the letter reminded Corbett that drilling has a substantial impact on the quality of state forests. It requires millions of gallons of chemically-treated water, the clearing of land, construction of pipelines, water impoundments and access roads, and hundreds of truck trips.
Additional leases of state of state forest land would adversely impact hunters, fishers, environmentalists, hikers, campers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, and the 70,000 Pennsylvanians employed in the forest products industry, the lawmakers wrote.
"We have the responsibility to maintain the quality of the remaining 800,000 acres that lay above the Marcellus Shale region not only for us, but for future generations as well," the lawmakers wrote. "We urge you to protect this acreage by keeping it free of drilling and related development."
The letter was signed by one Republican, Kate Harper of Montgomery County.
Vitali plans to introduce legislation next week that would put a three-year moratorium on additional leases for natural gas drilling in state forests. A version of the bill passed the House with bipartisan support last year, but it stalled in the Senate. Former Gov. Ed Rendell eventually signed an executive order that put a moratorium in place.
Editor's note: A copy of the letter is available by clicking here.