Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wolf Signs Order Reinstating Moratorium On All New Oil And Gas Leases In State Forests, Parks

Gov. Tom Wolf Thursday signed an executive order reinstating a moratorium on new leases for oil and gas development in state parks and forests. He signed the order with members of the General Assembly in attendance at in Benjamin Rush State Park in Philadelphia.
The language of the order covers both conventional and unconventional (Marcellus Shale) oil and gas development.
“Natural gas development is vital to Pennsylvania’s economy, but so is the economic and environmental viability of our parks and forests,” said Gov. Wolf. “This is about striking the right balance. Our state parks and forests are unique assets that should be preserved, protected, and utilized by our residents for recreational purposes.”
“Our parks host 38 million visitors annually, support over 13,000 jobs, and provide $1.2 billion to the state’s economy,” Gov. Wolf continued. “We should be looking for opportunities to grow our recreational and tourism economy through a revitalized parks and forest system that ensures we are preserving our natural resources and protecting our people and the environment.”
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has concluded that additional leasing jeopardizes the agency’s ability to sustain the commonwealth’s gold-standard forest certification, which is vital the economic and environmental well-being of the state’s parks and forests.
The executive order states that effective immediately, DCNR is directed to protect the lands of the Commonwealth that are held in trust for its citizens and for future generations, and subject to future advice and recommendations made by DCNR, no State Park and State Forest lands owned and/or managed by DCNR shall be leased for oil and gas development.
The previous moratorium was put in place by Gov. Rendell after the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources leased over 137,000 acres of State Forest land for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and a few days before the 2010 gubernatorial election.  Almost all of the proceeds from the leases at that time went to balancing the state budget, not to conservation or environmental programs.
Last May, Gov. Corbett issued an executive order allowing additional drilling in State Forests and Parks only if additional long-term surface disturbances could be avoided.  Gov. Wolf’s order rescinds Corbett’s action.
Still in force, however, is a provision in the Fiscal Code bill passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Corbett last July authorizing the transfers of an additional $95 million from DCNR’s Oil and Gas Fund to balance the state budget.
A copy of the new executive order is available online.

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