Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Friday announced the introduction of House Bill 950 which would permanently ban the leasing of additional state forest land for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
"Pennsylvania has already made about half of its state forestland available for drilling," said Rep. Vitali. "The remaining 800,000 acres have old growth forests, fragile ecosystems, and habitats for rare and endangered species. We need to protect this land for future generations."
Gov. Rendell leased more than 700,000 acres of state forest land for drilling during his administration and signed an executive order in 2010 right before the gubernatorial election that year to put a moratorium on additional leasing.
Rep. Vitali said this legislation is needed because the moratorium could be undone with a stroke of Gov. Corbett's pen.
During Senate and House budget hearings over the last two weeks, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Allan said the moratorium on additional leasing remains in place for state forest lands and there are no plans and there have been no discussions with the Governor about lifting the moratorium.
In 2010, Rep. Vitali introduced a bill that would have put a five-year moratorium on additional leasing of state forestland for gas drilling. The bill passed the House, but it stalled in the Senate.
Rep. Vitali's new bill, which has 34 co-sponsors and bipartisan support, would not affect drilling on private land, nor would it prevent drilling on the more than 700,000 acres of state forest already available for gas drilling. To date, 559 gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania state forests.
Rep. Vitali said natural gas drilling is a high-impact activity that requires several acres to be cleared to create a drilling pad. Access roads, a water-sediment basin, gas lines and other infrastructure need to be installed.
Several million gallons of water are required to drill each well. He said this type of activity is not compatible with the traditional use of state forests by hikers, campers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, hunters, fishers, boaters and environmentalists.
Rep. Vitali said the state forest gas drilling leases already in place were driven by the commonwealth's need to find new sources of revenue. However, he said there are better revenue sources available, such as a modest severance tax on gas drillers. Most other states with significant gas production impose a severance tax, Rep. Vitali said.