While the debate over drilling on state land in Pennsylvania is focused on parks and forests, another state landowner is looking to collect revenue by selling public resources to the natural gas industry: the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC).

While the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation manages 117 state parks and 2.1 million acres of state forest, it doesn't manage all state lands in Pennsylvania. The PFBC controls 43,000 acres of state land and water. During a special meeting on March 7, the 10-member commission established two programs that allow it to make money from those properties.

The Natural Gas Leasing Program allows the PFBC to sell the natural gas under its properties. The program is nondevelopmental, meaning it won't allow production equipment, including wells, on PFBC property. That means drilling companies would have to access the natural gas using direction wells started outside PFBC property. The PFBC believes that won't be a problem because its property is small and discontinuous -- unlike state parks and forests -- and much of it is near existing development.

The Water Access Program sets up a system from the PFBC to "consider requests to use its property to access, acquire or transport water resources." The PFBC believes this program will minimize local impacts from drilling by reducing truck traffic in areas near development and by "placing strict rules" on water withdrawals, according to commission Vice President Robert Bachman.

The PFBC said it would only approve projects that have "little or no impact" on resources or property use. The primary mission of the agency is to protect water resources and to provide fishing and boating opportunities for Pennsylvania's outdoor enthusiasts.

The two programs only authorize the commission to allow the activities, but actual proposals would have to get specific approval.

The PFBC does not get general fund allocations from the state and gets most of its revenue from licenses, registration and federal sources. It said the programs would help fund infrastructure projects, particularly 16 dams in serious need of repairs.

The PFBC board approved the programs on an eight to one vote, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News. Board President William Worobec abstained from discussion and voting, citing business ties to the Marcellus Shale industry, while Commissioner G. Warren Elliot voted against the programs, saying, "I have a fundamental concern with the (commission) contracting with and receiving funds from companies that the agency has regulatory oversight and enforcement powers over."

Executive Director John Arway said the programs are a response to industry interest.

"Our plan was not to go out and market our properties," the Patriot-News reported Arway as saying.

Leasing state lands for drilling is a major point of debate in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Corbett likes the idea, but has not rolled back an existing moratorium on leasing and did not include revenue from additional leasing in his budget (see Shale Daily, March 9).