Saturday, February 13, 2010

We have leased enough state forests for Marcellus Shale gas drilling

Patriot-News Op-Ed
By State Rep. Greg Vitali
February 12, 2010
Gov. Rendell plans to lease — perhaps as early as this spring — more Pennsylvania state forest land for Marcellus Shale gas drilling. This would be in addition to the almost 700,000 acres of state forest land already available for Marcellus drilling. No one knows what the impact of the anticipated drilling will be. That’s why I have introduced legislation to impose a moratorium on further leasing until we know more. The governor plans to raise an additional $180 million from state forest leasing for the 2010-11 budget. He needs no legislative approval to do this.

One-and-a-half-million acres of Pennsylvania state forest land sits atop the Marcellus Shale formation. With the leasing of 32,000 acres in January, 692,000 acres of state forest land is now available for drilling. Yet the governor wants to lease more.


Fracking a single well typically requires more than a million gallons of water. Several acres of land need to be cleared for the drilling pad. Access roads, a water sediment basin and other infrastructure need to be installed, and a high volume of truck traffic is required to transport drilling equipment and water to and from the drilling site. This activity impacts state forests and puts local water quality at risk.

Presently, there are only three Marcellus wells producing gas on Pennsylvania state forest land. About another hundred wells are being drilled. It is conservatively estimated that about 5,000 to 6,000 Marcellus wells will be drilled in the next 15 years. No one knows what the impact of this drilling will be on state forests or how it will affect the quality of drinking water in the Marcellus region.

We need to stop leasing state forest land until we can better assess the impact of this anticipated drilling. That’s why I have introduced H.B. 2235, The State Forest Natural Gas Lease Moratorium Act. This bill would impose a five-year moratorium on further state forest leasing. The bill also would require the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to study the impact of drilling and provide an annual report to the governor and General Assembly.

Instead of leasing more state forest land to balance this year’s budget, Pennsylvania should impose a severance tax on gas drillers. Almost every other state that extracts natural gas imposes such a tax.

The citizens of Pennsylvania need to send a strong message to Gov. Rendell and the General Assembly that our state forests and the quality of our drinking water are too important to compromise.

Greg Vitali is a Democratic state representative from Delaware County and serves on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. He can be reached via



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