HARRISBURG - The Corbett administration, having just taken a step to make it easier to drill for natural gas on state lands, says it will soon take another, bigger step in that direction.
Gov. Corbett plans to lift the moratorium his predecessor imposed in October on new natural-gas drilling in state forests and parks. It's just a matter of time, his spokesman said Tuesday.
Spokesman Kevin Harley said the governor believes there should be drilling on publicly held lands, and called former Gov. Ed Rendell's moratorium a political move made on the heels of the legislature's failure to enact a tax on natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale formation.
"He's looking at it," Harley said of Corbett. "I don't know when the date will be, but he does . . . believe there should be drilling in state forests."
Over the weekend, the administration quietly rescinded a policy, also put in place in October, that required the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to perform an environmental-impact analysis before any drilling could occur in state forests and parklands where the state does not own the mineral rights under the land.
Rendell's separate moratorium on new drilling leases applied not to those parcels, former DCNR secretary John Quigley said, but to the remaining parklands where the state does own mineral rights.
Quigley, the outgoing secretary under Rendell, contended that the step taken over the weekend will weaken the state's ability to ensure that drilling is done responsibly on public lands. He said that at least 61 state parks lie atop the gas-rich Marcellus Shale and that the DCNR does not own mineral rights to about 85 percent of those state parklands.
In an interview Tuesday, Quigley said he believes the action taken by the new administration will leave his old department with limited ability to control - and no ability to stop - drilling in most of these areas.
"It was a commonsense policy," Quigley said. "Our review looked at species that lived in those areas, the surface waters, the recreational impacts, the aesthetics, the public water supplies - all of that was examined. And based on that review, DCNR could decide where you should drill and where you shouldn't, or what protections you needed to put into place to drill."
Harley on Tuesday said the DCNR policy was lifted because of the governor's belief that there were appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that drilling was done responsibly in those areas.