Gov. Tom Corbett will issue an executive order overturning a moratorium on leasing land for drilling in state parks and forests, StateImpact reports. The new order will allow drillers hydraulically fracturing, or fracking, on private land adjacent to state forests and parks to lease rights to gas underneath public land.
"We're looking at an approach that makes no surface disturbance to the land," Budget Secretary Charles Zogby told the NPR-affiliated news site. "These are pads that are already out there. From a public standpoint they're not going to see any activity that they otherwise might not."
Gov. Ed Rendell, Corbett's Democratic predecessor, issued the moratorium in 2010. Corbett hopes to modestly boost education and social service spending after years of cuts ahead of the November election. The new drilling would raise a projected $75 million. But the governor has resisted calls for a severance tax on natural gas, which Democratic opponents say could raise $600 million in its first year.
The environmental group PennFuture criticized the plan.
"This will place more and more of the budget burden on the backs of public lands," according to a statement from PennFuture president Cindy Dunn. "In announcing that he seeks to lift a three-year-old moratorium to expand the leasing of public lands for gas development, the governor reveals the short-sighted nature of his stewardship of our natural resources by trading more long-term harm to our state parks and forests in return for short-term economic gain."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hanger, who developed the moratorium as Rendell's Department of Environmental Protection secretary, disputed the assertion that new drilling wouldn't harm state forests and parks.
"More drilling always involves more road construction, more pipelines, more truck traffic," he said in a statement. "I say no means no – no more drilling in state forests – and never drilling in state parks."
Corbett did not specifically mention the executive order in today's budget address.
Corrected: The Rendell executive order put a moratorium on new leases of state forest and park land for drilling, not on drilling. That assertion was credited to a StateImpact story, which has since been corrected.
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