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36 House Democrats Urge Governor To Stop Leasing State Forest For Gas Drilling

Rep. David Levdansky (D-Allegheny) led a group of 36 House Democrats this week to sign a letter to Gov. Rendell urging him not to lease additional State Forest lands for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
           The letter, written to the Governor in advance of his budget address on Tuesday, recommends that a natural gas severance tax instead be levied on the gas already being drilled, which would obviate the need for the leasing of additional state forest lands in order to raise revenue for the state.
            "While I opposed the original lease proposal for gas drilling in 2009-10, I understood that this was a one-time fix to raise $60 million to offset the state budget shortfall," Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero (D-Bucks) one of the signers said. "However, I am opposed to any further leasing of our state forest lands for this purpose as it could potentially have long-term environmental, fiscal and social impacts on our state and our residents."
            The Representatives took action after talk surfaced of a new plan to generate $180 million in new revenue from additional forest leasing in 2010-11.  Rep. Santarsiero said this plan was not discussed or approved by members of the House.
            Currently more than 700,000 acres, or one-third of the entire state forest lands, are already leased to drillers hoping to extract natural gas from the state's rich layer of Marcellus Shale, which underlies approximately two-thirds of Pennsylvania and portions of the states of New York and West Virginia at a depth of 5,000 to 8,000 feet. This layer is believed to hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
            "Our State Forests are Pennsylvania's hidden recreational gems for thousands and thousands of visitors each year, offering more than 2,500 miles of trails and opportunities for hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling and ATV riding," Rep. Santarsiero said. "In addition to the environmental concerns, this plan to lease additional forest lands would take away a valuable natural resource that is important to the heritage and culture of our state."
            Legislators and the Governor are counting on $180 million from State Forest natural gas leasing to help balance the 2010-11 budget.   $60 million from leasing revenue leasing was taken to help balance the 2009-10 budget, $43 million was taken to fund the 2008-09 budget and $174 million was used to fill a budget hole in 2007-08.
            The most recent State Forest lease by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources took in $128.3 million, $68 million more than was expected, which could be applied for the obligation in the next budget if the agreement holds.


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