|Rep. Greg Vitali
166th Legislative District
Office of Open Records directs Corbett to provide details of state parks and forests drilling plan
HARRISBURG, May 23 – The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records on Thursday granted state Rep. Greg Vitali's appeal seeking details about Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to raise $75 million through the additional leasing of mineral rights in state parks and forests for natural gas drilling.
Vitali, the Democratic chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, sought information about what parks and forests are under consideration for drilling, how many acres would be leased, which companies will be doing the drilling and how the $75 million figure was calculated.
"We are pleased with this ruling and hope that the Corbett administration complies quickly without wasting additional taxpayer dollars by appealing to Commonwealth Court. We need this information to properly consider the commonwealth budget which we will be voting on next month," Vitali said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources initially denied Vitali's Right-to-Know request, saying it was too broad. But in his ruling, Open Records Appeals Officer Benjamin Lorah wrote that "the Request, viewed as a whole, is sufficiently specific to enable the Department of respond."
The department also denied Vitali's request claiming the records were exempt from public access. However, the OOR determined "the Department failed to provide any evidentiary support or explanation concerning any of these exemptions."
In his appeal, Vitali claimed that the department interpreted his request in an overly restrictive manner that effectively denied access to the records he sought. OOR agreed, stating in its determination that the department "narrowed the scope of the Request in such a way as to completely change the nature of the request ..."
Under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law, DCNR is now required to provide the requested information to Vitali within 30 days, unless an appeal is filed with Commonwealth Court within the same time period.
In his budget address on Feb. 4, Corbett proposed raising an additional $75 million from "non-surface impact” drilling. Vitali is opposed to this proposal because drilling is a highly industrial activity, and an expansion will have a negative impact on state parks and forests.
Vitali said a severance tax on gas drilling is a better way to raise revenue.
DCNR acknowledged the negative impacts of drilling in its Shale Gas Monitoring report, released last month, that states: "Natural gas development ... affects a variety of forest resources and values, such as recreational opportunities, the forest’s wild character, scenic beauty, and plant and wildlife habitat.”
According to the report, 44 percent of state forestland, or 673,000 acres, that sits atop the Marcellus Shale, is already subject to drilling.
A copy of Thursday's OOR decision can be found here.