Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) and 40 other state organizations have sent a letter to Gov.-elect Tom Corbett asking him to maintain the moratorium signed last year by Gov. Ed Rendell that prevents new leases for deep natural gas drilling in the state’s forests.

Rendell last October signed an executive order that banned leases for oil and gas development on any land owned and managed by the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) (see Shale Daily, Oct. 27, 2010). Rendell estimated at that time that about 700,000 acres of the state’s 2.2 million-acre state forests were available for natural gas extraction, but earlier last year DCNR said there was no unleased state forest acreage suitable for gas development remaining in the Marcellus Shale area (see Daily GPI, Aug. 16, 2010).

Following his election last November, Corbett, who is scheduled to take office next week, said he would gradually lift the ban on state forest drilling (see Shale Daily, Nov. 15, 2010).

In addition to PennFuture, state organizations asking Corbett to reconsider his plan to lift the ban included the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the League of Women Voters, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Preservation Pennsylvania, land conservancies, watershed and other environmental groups, and community development and citizen action groups.

In the letter, Corbett was asked to consider available scientific evidence before he rescinds the ban.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has conducted a detailed and scientific analysis on the impact of natural gas drilling on state forests, and they have concluded that ‘no additional leasing involving surface disturbance can occur without significantly altering the ecological integrity and wild character of our state forest system,'” the letter noted.

In addition, new drilling leases would threaten Pennsylvania industry and jobs, the letter stated. “Pennsylvania’s $1 billion outdoor tourism industry relies heavily on our state parks and forests, which offer more than 2,500 miles of trails and opportunities for hunting, fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding and snowmobiling.”

The state’s timber industry employs “around 70,000 people,” the letter also stated. “Pennsylvania state forests are one of the nation’s largest sustainable systems certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Fragmenting our state forests during the drilling process would threaten that certification, which increases the value of our timber, giving our industry an advantage. Last year state forests generated nearly $20 million from timber sales.”