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Corbett Executive Order OKs Fracking Under State Forests, Parks

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett issued an executive order Friday lifting a moratorium on new oil and gas leases in state parks and forests and replacing it with a measure that will allow such leases, provided the drilling occurs on nearby land and surfaces in the parks and forests are not disturbed.

The Republican governor's office said allowing limited leasing is expected to raise $75 million, which would be used to fund "critical priorities" within state government.

The order, No. 2014-03, specifically prohibits the leasing of state forest and park land for oil and natural gas development "which would result in additional surface disturbance," a distinction that opens the land to leasing and drilling through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) from properties adjacent or near parks and forests. The order took effect immediately.

"With this executive order, I am directing that the commonwealth maintain a moratorium on any additional gas leasing of DCNR [Department of Conservation and Natural Resources] lands that involves long-term surface disturbance, such as placing well pads, roads or pipelines in the newly-leased areas," Corbett said.

"This balanced approach will ensure that the special characteristics and habitats of DCNR lands are conserved and protected, and will also provide for historic investments in conservation programs, our schools and quality health care, without raising taxes on Pennsylvanians."

Corbett added that Pennsylvania would analyze specific areas and acreage for possible drilling, depending on the level of interest by oil and gas operators that can target them through fracking.

"Future royalties from these leases will be dedicated to expanding our system by acquiring lands with high conservation value and ecological importance, purchasing privately-held subsurface rights for existing DCNR lands and improving state parks and forests," Corbett said.

DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti said she was confident the agency could continue managing its system of more than 2.2 million acres of state forest land and 200,000 acres of state park land while oil and gas leasing moved forward.

"The commonwealth's state forest system has been certified as 'well-managed' longer than any other in the country, and continues to receive that distinction after five years of gas development in the Marcellus Shale formation," she said.

Last month, Pennsylvania Energy Executive Patrick Henderson said the governor could issue an executive order lifting the moratorium sometime before July (see Shale Daily, April 24). Corbett first proposed lifting the ban in February as part of his $29.4 billion 2014-2015 budget (see Shale Daily, Feb. 6).

In 2010, Corbett's predecessor, Democrat Ed Rendell, signed an executive order (No. 2010-05) barring the DCNR from leasing any of the land it either owns or manages for oil and gas development, creating the moratorium (see Shale Daily, Oct. 27, 2010). Operators have continued drilling and developing such acreage under leases issued before Rendell's order.

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