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House Committee Hears Comments On State Forest Land Moratorium Bill

The House Democratic Policy Committee this week held a hearing in King of Prussia on House Bill 2235 (Vitali-D-Delaware) which would impose a five year moratorium on leasing State Forest land for natural gas drilling.
            “Pennsylvania’s burgeoning natural gas industry promises not only to be a wise energy investment, but also a strong economic driver,” Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) and Chair of the Committee said. “However, the ramifications to our environment could be great and it is important we fully explore the expansion of this industry in our state. I applaud Representative Vitali and Representative Briggs on bringing this issue to southeast Pennsylvania.”
            Rep. Vitali added, "We do not yet know what the cumulative impact of natural gas drilling will have on state forests or how it will affect the quality of drinking water. A five-year moratorium on additional leases will give us time to study this issue so will be sure our state forests will be there for future generations to enjoy.”
            John Quigley, Acting Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, told the Committee, "At Gov. Rendell's direction, DCNR's approach to natural gas drilling has been to limit its impact, to the greatest extent possible, on the forest itself, and on the uses of the forest.  It's our value system-- and our responsibility to conserve and balance the use of our resources.
            "The alternative to leasing more State Forest land is simple-- raise new revenues elsewhere.  The Governor has proposed a series of such measures, including the imposition of a severance tax on natural gas.  There would not be a need to lease one additional acre of State Forest if those revenue enhancements were adopted.
            "One-and-a half million acres of our State Forest are in the Marcellus Shale geologic formation; of that, 700,000 acres are already available for drilling.  Of the remaining unleased State Forest land in the Marcellus, all of it is environmentally sensitive (emphasis was the speaker's)."
            Matt Royer, Staff Attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, expressed support for the legislation saying, "The state should comprehensively evaluate and assess the cumulative environmental and quality of life impacts of the drilling that will occur on the many hundreds of thousands of acres that have already been leased before proceeding to lease more.  This is a fair and balanced approach that allows for a careful impact analysis to occur so that future drilling operations can be informed by that analysis."
            Royer cited recent actions by the Department of Environmental Protection which revoked Marcellus Shale drilling permits issued with no technical review by the agency only after CBF appealed the permits.  One of the permits was for a drilling site in the Tioga State Forest in Tioga County.
            Rick Carson, former DCNR Policy Director, said, I want to start by congratulating Greg Vitali for introducing House Bill 2235.  The recent events involving the raid on the Oil and Gas Fund and the unprecedented actions, which are dictating how the public's natural resources are being managed, demands an immediate remedy such as proposed by House Bill 2235.
            "It's become apparent that this Administration intends to press for new oil and gas leasing to bankroll their spending priorities as part of the next budget process.  Sadly, this will continue until there is sufficient public understanding and outrage about what is likely to happen when these leases are fully developed on State Forest lands.  
            "The Marcellus drilling offers many possibilities but we have a Constitutional responsibility to understand the potential impacts of this development... without this moratorium, it will not be possible to carry out our public trust responsibilities for these impact State Forest lands."
            Also presenting testimony were Ray Werts, Western Clinton County Sportsmen Club and Robert Davey, former DCNR Forester.
            Copies of the testimony presented is available in one file online.
            House Bill 2235 is due to be considered by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on March 24.
            Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) serves as Chair of the Committee.


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