Vitali bill would prevent further state forest leasing

HARRISBURG, March 8 State Rep. Greg Vitali today introduced legislation, H.B. 950, which would permanently ban the leasing of additional state forestland for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

"Pennsylvania has already made about half of its state forestland available for drilling," said Vitali, Democratic chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. "The remaining 800,000 acres have old growth forests, fragile ecosystems, and habitats for rare and endangered species. We need to protect this land for future generations."

Vitali's bill is similar to an executive order signed in 2010 by former Gov. Ed Rendell that put a moratorium on additional leasing of state forests for drilling. However, Vitali said this legislation is needed because the moratorium could be undone with a stroke of Gov. Tom Corbett's pen.

In 2010, Vitali introduced a bill that would have put a five-year moratorium on additional leasing of state forestland for gas drilling. The bill passed the House, but it stalled in the Senate.

Vitali's new bill, which has 34 co-sponsors and bipartisan support, would not affect drilling on private land, nor would it prevent drilling on the more than 700,000 acres of state forest already available for gas drilling. To date, 559 gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania state forests.

Vitali said natural gas drilling is a high-impact activity that requires several acres to be cleared to create a drilling pad. Access roads, a water-sediment basin, gas lines and other infrastructure need to be installed. Several million gallons of water are required to drill each well.

This type of activity is not compatible with the traditional use of state forests by hikers, campers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, hunters, fishers, boaters and environmentalists.

Vitali said the state forest gas drilling leases already in place were driven by the commonwealth's need to find new sources of revenue. However, he said there are better revenue sources available, such as a modest severance tax on gas drillers. Most other states with significant gas production impose a severance tax, Vitali said.

166th Legislative District
Delaware County
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