The House this week passed House Bill 2235 (Vitali-D-Delaware) imposing a 3 year moratorium on Marcellus Shale natural gas leasing in State Forests and requiring certain studies by a vote of 157 to 33. The Senate is not expected to take up the bill.
"Drilling has an enormous impact on our state forests," Rep. Vitali said. "Each well drilled requires millions of gallons of water. It also requires the clearing of several acres of land, hundreds of truck trips, the expansion of roads, the construction of retention basins and the laying of pipeline.
"To cash out Pennsylvania's assets to solve a year or two of budget problems is shortsighted."
"For the past year, I have been leading an ongoing effort against attempts to turn the state forest into a cash cow in order to fund the budget deficit," said Rep. David Levdansky (D-Allegheny) Majority Chair of the House Finance Committee. "As we stand now, more than half of the 1.5 million state forest acres in the gas drilling region have been leased for gas drilling. So this moratorium says, time out, no more additional leasing. Let the drilling occur on the approximately 800,000 acres that have already been leased. But let's do an analysis to see how it is affecting the environment and then we can decide whether to proceed with additional leasing."
"The remaining state forestland that has not been subject to oil and gas leasing is our most valuable natural resource, which the Commonwealth holds in perpetuity for present and future generations of Pennsylvanians," Rep. Levdansky said. "We have real concerns about all that comes with additional leasing -- the access roads, the pipelines, water withdrawals, wastewater disposals and the drilling itself. We need to protect and preserve the state forest from further exploitation."
The bill also had Republican support like Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming)--
"The passage of this legislation is a great example of members on both sides of the aisle working together to come up with a well-reasoned and thoughtful approach toward the Marcellus Shale drilling issue," said Rep. Everett. "We have members in the House who believe that we should have no Marcellus drilling on state forest land and those who believe we should develop every acre - this bill will give us some time to evaluate the impacts of the wells which are drilled and pipelines which are constructed on the state lands we have already leased out so we can make informed decisions on whether, when, how and how much state land to lease out in the future."
"The Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling operations are providing new jobs for Pennsylvanians and will continue to do so long into the future," said Rep. Everett. "Prior to entering into these negotiations, I was assured by leaders in the gas industry that this "time out" in leasing state land will have no impact on the overall Marcellus development in Pennsylvania."
The budget agreement between Gov. Rendell, Senate Republicans and House Democrats calls for $68 million to come from additional Marcellus Shale leases in State Forest lands to help balance the FY 2010-11 state budget.
At the same time, the House Appropriations Committee reported out House Bill 2435 (D.Evans-D-Philadelphia) which authorizes a severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production.
The Evans bill would deposit 90 percent of the revenue in the General Fund through June 30, 2011 and 10 percent in a restricted account to be allocated as follows-- 50 percent distributed to municipalities in natural gas drilling areas, 50 percent to counties in natural gas drilling areas to be used for road and bridge repairs, parks and recreation, industrial and commercial development, improvement of municipal water and wastewater systems, preservation and reclamation of surface waters and other purposes relating to the consequences of natural gas development.
House Finance Hearings
The House Finance Committee has scheduled three public hearings on a competing severance tax proposal introduced by Rep. Levdansky (D-Allegheny)-- House Bill 2443 (Levdansky-D-Allegheny).
House Bill 2443 would deposit 45 percent of the revenue in the General Fund, 22 percent in the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund, 20 percent in a new Local Government Services Fund for counties and municipalities in the drilling areas, 2 percent in the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund, 3 percent in the Conservation Districts Fund, 2 percent to the Game Commission, 4 percent to the Fish and Boat Commission and 2 percent to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The hearings on this bill will be May 11-- Philadelphia State Playhouse, Indiana, May 12-- Lycoming College, Williamsport and May 13-- Shawnee Inn, Shawnee on the Delaware.
Editorial: State Forest Leasing, Drilling Brings In Bucks, But With Price