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Environment & Energy

Wolf Bans Additional Drilling Under State-Owned Lands

Governor Tom Wolf on Thursday reversed an order by his Republican predecessor, Tom Corbett, by issuing an executive order banning new gas drilling leases in state forests and parks.

Wolf’s order supersedes that signed by Corbett last May to resume issuing drilling leases for forests and parks.

In 2010 then Gov. Ed Rendell issued the moratorium—two years after his administration first allowed drilling in state forests.

Wolf said the moratorium was rooted in a "deep-seated and profound respect" for state parks. He added that he wants the gas industry to thrive in Pennsylvania but with proper safeguards.

"I absolutely want to do natural gas," he said. "If we do it right, we can create really good jobs and a great industry."

But the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), an industry trade group, sharply criticized the move. 

“Unfortunately this action, made without any industry input, to ban the safe and tightly-regulated development of natural gas from beneath taxpayer-owned lands flies in the face of common sense,” says Coalition spokesman Travis Windle.

Corbett's order authorized the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to negotiate new leases for gas extraction through horizontal wells drilled from adjacent, privately-owned land or areas previously leased for drilling in state forests.  But any new leases were put on hold pending a resolution of a lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation.

The state Commonwealth Court sided with the Corbett administration in a decision this month. It upheld the government's right to lease more public lands for natural gas and oil drilling, and the diversion of rent and royalty payments from a land conservation fund to other programs.

Environmentalists praised Wolf’s action, saying it reflects his support for strong environmental regulation.

"The governor has wisely chosen to protect the people of Pennsylvania over the profits of drillers," said John Norbeck, CEO of PennFuture.

Since the first leases for drilling on the Marcellus Shale formation were sold in 2008, hundreds of millions of dollars of that revenue has been used to shore up the state's operating budgets under Corbett and Rendell.

Coalition spokesman Windle said the industry still hopes to work “constructively” with Wolf. 

“Policies that encourage expanded natural gas development in the commonwealth–this is a process that is tightly regulated within a world-class regulatory framework—those policies indeed will help generate additional revenues at a time when revenue is sorely needed, said Windle”