Fracking Water Impoundment Pond
A water impoundment pond on Pennsylvania state forest land (photo: Chad Shmukler).

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett recently unveiled an almost $30 billion spending plan for his state that includes proposals that would expand natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania state forests and parks, presumably overturning a moratorium on further expansion of such operations that was put in place by former governor Ed Rendell. According to Corbett's office, his plan to expand natural gas leases could add up to $75 million in new revenue for the state.

Existing, operating natural gas wells on Pennsylvania state forest and park lands exists in or adjacent to watersheds of some of the state's most famous trout streams, such as Slate Run and Pine Creek, amongst others. Pennsylvania state forest, park and game land is also rich with small brook trout streams, many of which are classified by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission as Class A Wild Trout water.

In a radio interview with station WITF, Corbett told Radio Smart Talk, “there’s a huge amount” of gas under state parks and forests, “and I don’t believe in leaving it there.”

Since his introduction of the plan, Corbett and his office have defended the plan as a consequence-free win for the state. They have called the proposed drilling expansion "non-impact" due to the fact that new leases to extract gas from beneath the ground in Pennsylvania's state forests and parks will only be granted for existing well pads, allowing new drilling to occur "without the need for additional surface impacts."

Describing the proposed expansion as "non-impact" was almost immediately cited by opponents of the plan as grossly misleading, as it ignores entirely the significant impacts that would result from the many activities that accompany the introduction of new wells on existing pads, such as freshwater withdrawal requirements of over 4 million gallons per well and wholesale increases in truck traffic transporting fresh and waste water to and from each site, just to name a few.

Corbett is recognized by groups and individuals on both sides of the issue as a friend to the oil and gas industries and is an outward, unabashed proponent of hydraulic fracturing. It is also widely believed that Corbett will not receive the necessary votes to win reelection this November. As such, there is significant speculation that Corbett will take drastic steps -- steps that disregard public opinion -- to further expand opportunities for the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania before his term in office ends.

In response to questioning by StateImpact Pennsylvania, which asked whether Corbett's plan intended to overturn the existing moratorium on new drilling on Pennsylvania's state land, Corbett's budget secretary Charles Zogby replied, "I think you’ll see a new executive order issued at some point in the future by the governor."

To learn more about the impacts of natural gas drilling on Pennsylvania's state lands, be sure to explore our full-length feature The Scale of Shale.