Published: November 10, 2009
HARRISBURG - Nearly 32,000 acres of state forest land in north-central Pennsylvania will be opened up next month to potential natural gas drilling under a plan to generate revenue for state government, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced Monday.
Setting minimum bids at $2,000 an acre, DCNR officials anticipate that if all 32,000 acres are leased to private drilling firms it will generate $60 million in gas lease revenue to help support the state budget enacted last month.
The budget requires DCNR to lease enough forest land this fiscal year so it can transfer $60 million to the General Fund. It provides $50 million in future royalties from gas production to help operate and maintain state parks and forests. The lease terms set minimum royalties at 18 percent.
DCNR will open six tracts in Elk, Moshannon, Sproul, Susquehanna and Tioga state forests in Cameron, Clearfield, Clinton, Potter and Tioga counties.
"The tracts represent a little more than 1.5 percent of our total state forest land," said Acting DCNR Secretary John Quigley.
The bids will be opened Jan. 12 and awarded a day later.
DCNR officials have spent the past year conducting an environmental review of the land chosen for drilling. The process starts when drillers identify land they are interested in. DCNR officials say their review focuses on how drilling will affect the health of the forests and ecosystems that support wildlife and other permitted uses of forest land such as public recreation and timber cutting. The department sets conditions on how drillers operate. The head of the statewide environmental group PennFuture expressed concern about how the new drilling will affect hikers and hunters.
PennFuture CEO Jan Jarrett said she is aware of anecdotal stories of hikers in the Tioga State Forest finding trails unexpectedly blocked because of drilling operations. She said the state needs to do a more comprehensive study weighing the impact of drilling on forest activities.
About 660,000 acres of the 2.1 million acres of state forest land is leased for gas production. A lot of that acreage is in the traditional shallow gas fields of Northwest Pennsylvania.
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