Column | Leasing state parks for drilling is a bad idea

March 12, 2014 

Gov. Tom Corbett recently proposed leasing more state for-est land and, for the first time, state park land for Marcellus drilling.

This proposal would needlessly degrade the aesthetic, recreational and ecological value of our precious parks and forests. To raise needed revenue, the governor should support a severance tax instead.

On Feb. 4, the governor proposed a commonwealth budget that would raise $75 million by leasing mineral rights in Pennsylvania state parks and forests for “nonsurface impact” drilling.

Despite repeated requests, Corbett has yet to reveal how many acres would be leased, what state parks and forests would be affected, to whom the land would be leased or when it would begin.

His proposal would allow new well pads near state parks to access gas under them and would allow new drilling on existing well pads in state forests to access newly leased mineral rights.

About 25,000 additional acres would need to be leased to reach Corbett’s $75 million revenue figure.

Regardless of whether the drilling would occur on new well pads adjacent to state parks and forests or on existing well pads in state forests, this proposal would have a significant impact.

Natural gas drilling is a highly industrial activity. The installation of a new well pad requires several acres to be cleared and the construction of access roads, a water-sediment basin, gas lines, compressor stations and other infrastructure.

Drilling a new well on an existing pad is also very impactful.

Several million gallons of water are required. There is a significant amount of truck traffic along with noise and air pollution.

Leaks, spills and other accidents are always a possibility.

This activity is not compatible with the traditional use of state parks and forests by hikers, campers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, hunters, fishermen, boaters and environmentalists.

For this reason, Pennsylvania has never allowed the leasing of state park land for oil or gas development where it owns the mineral rights.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has already made about half of its state forest land available for drilling. The remaining 800,000 acres are not suitable for drilling because they contain old-growth forests, fragile ecosystems and habitats for rare and endangered species.

In 2010, former Gov. Ed Rendell issued an executive order prohibiting further leasing of state forest and park land for gas drilling. Last year, I introduced House Bill 950, which would give this moratorium the force of law.

Corbett’s proposal would overturn the Rendell moratorium.

There is a better way to raise revenue from natural gas drilling — the severance tax. According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, “Replacing Pennsylvania’s impact fee with a modest 4 percent severance tax could generate $1.2 billion annually by 2019-20, three times that of the current fee.”

Seventy percent of Pennsylvanians support a severance tax.

Corbett should, too.

State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware County, is Democratic chairman of the Pennsylvania House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

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