Pennsylvania to Allow Natural Gas Drilling on Forest Lands

Published June 13, 2010

Drilling for natural gas in the energy-rich Marcellus Shale Formation has received support under a plan unveiled by Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell (D).

Lucrative for State, Residents
Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) took the lead in negotiating a lease agreement state officials believe will create jobs, cement the Keystone State’s growing reputation as an energy producer, add significantly to the commonwealth’s coffers, and protect state forest land.

Under the agreement signed in May, Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. has paid the commonwealth $120 million to access 32,896 acres surrounded by tracts of land for which drilling companies already hold leases. Because these newly leased tracts can largely be accessed by gas operations on the adjacent tracts, there will be minimal new disruption to state forest lands.

“This is a responsible approach that meets our revenue targets and limits the impact of additional natural gas exploration on our state forests,” Gov. Rendell said in a press statement.

Production Meets Conservation
Eager to underscore the limited environmental impact of the agreement, Rendell pointed out, “Horizontal drilling technologies allow Anadarko access to most of this acreage from already disturbed areas on their adjoining leased lands.”

“By some estimates, we have enough natural gas in the Marcellus formation beneath Pennsylvania to meet the country’s needs for the next 20 years,” Rendell’s deputy communications director, Michael Smith, told Greenwire. “Much of those reserves are under our state forest lands, so we’ve been especially diligent about leasing the rights to those lands without imperiling our natural resources.”

Activists Oppose
Although natural gas from the Marcellus Shale has been a boon to rural landowners, local economies, and the commonwealth’s treasury, some environmental activists continue to oppose production.

The activist group American Rivers has launched a media campaign focusing on what it claims to be environmental threats to U.S. waterways, prominently featuring alleged risks posed by hydraulic fracturing, the technology used to extract natural gas from shale.

Good for Environment
Natural gas production on state lands, however, will benefit the environment and other important public programs, says Eric Montarti, a senior policy analyst with the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

“There is an oversight process run by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,” Montarti noted. “Lease money accrued from natural gas production goes to conservation and environmental programs.

“There already is, and there will continue to be, drilling on state land,” Montarti added. “There is huge production potential in the Marcellus Shale deposits. The state owns the land where the resources lie, and the state can certainly use the money to fund other public programs.”¬†

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC.