August 01, 2011
Evironmental Groups: Some PA Forest Land Leases for Gas Drilling May Be Illegal
By Chad Love
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is leasing more state forest land for gas drilling to make up for budget cuts, but environmental groups say some of those leases may be illegal.
From this story in the Pocono Record:
Despite a $27.2 million, or 33 percent, cut in state funding this year, DCNR's overall budget increased from $282 million to $284 million. The increase was made possible by $65 million from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund, which is up from $35 million last year. The fund was created in 1955 to maintain revenue from DCNR's leases with natural gas drilling companies for portions of the state's 2.1 million acres of forests. Thanks to a surge in revenue from the leases, the state has cut funding to DCNR, which has been trimming its budget. Among the cost-saving efforts are shortening camping and swimming seasons, closing some restrooms and improving maintenance. However, department spokesman Terry Brady said there will be "no state park closures." But, some natural gas drilling leases may violate a federal law requiring that land purchased with federal funds must be available for public use, according to the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club. Since natural gas drilling requires closing at least a portion of the land to build gas wells, the public does not have full access, the club argues.
"...The first Marcellus shale lease on state forest lands occurred in 2008 and spanned more than 74,023 acres, generating $163 million, said Brady. Subsequent Marcellus leases have yielded $250 million for nearly 65,000 acres. However, the public is "losing thousands of acres of public land "» to the (natural gas) drilling industry," said Jeff Schmidt, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club. "The public is not being compensated." Because natural gas drilling frequently makes land unusable for the public due to the construction and operation of gas wells and access roads, an equal amount of leased land must be opened up through a process called conversion. For example, if 100 acres is purchased through federal funds, 100 acres must be made available somewhere else for public use, Schmidt said. The Sierra Club said DCNR is not properly documenting whether those lands being used for natural gas drilling were paid for with federal funds. In addition, the environmental group said DCNR is improperly allocating money from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund for salaries and operating costs, not conservation efforts as required under law.