New Castle News

Closer Look

February 21, 2013

State agencies enjoy gas lease paydays

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has made the biggest splash in leasing public lands to gas drillers.

But the two other agencies involved in protecting wildlife habitat in Pennsylvania also have been quietly using gas leases to generate millions of dollars in revenue.

Environmentalists say that fund crises have driven the agencies to make these deals with the gas companies, even if it means balancing the public interest in protecting habitat against the lure of a big payday.

“Anytime you incur extraction activity on public land, it creates an opportunity for conflict with recreational use, said Brook Lenker, with the Fractracker Alliance, a western Pennsylvania-based organization that has been monitoring the growth of the gas drilling industry.

The conservation department and the Pennsylvania Game Commission — the two largest landowners in the commonwealth, accounting for a combined total of 3.6 million acres of land — have leased more than 175,000 acres of land to gas companies for $438 million in one-time bonus payments, and an additional $106 million in royalty payments since 2008.

The conservation department conducted three lease deals, one in 2008 and two more in 2010, totaling $413 million and involving 138,000 acres. Since 2008, the state has received $100 million in royalties from gas wells on forestland.

There are no immediate plans to add more leases on state forestland, said Christina Novak, press secretary for the department of conservation and natural resources.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission meanwhile has received more than $24 million in bonus payments alone from deals with gas companies in the last two years. In addition, the commission has received more than $6 million in royalty payments.

In all, the commission has approved leases involving more than 41,000 acres, said Mike DiMatteo, chief of environmental planning for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Of that, 15,000 acres are leased in non-surface use agreements, which allow companies to access gas under the property but do not allow them do anything above ground on the site.

At the game commission’s January meeting, two new gas leases — involving almost 1,800 acres in Washington County and Pulaski Township in Lawrence County — were approved, generating almost $5 million.

In addition, the game commission approved a lease on 11,900 acres in Lycoming in exchange for 6,200 acres in McKean County.

The Fish and Boat Commission received $5 million in lease payments and the agency hopes to employ similar leases on other commission land to help close a $9 million funding shortfall, executive director John Arway told the House Game and Fisheries Committee this week.

“In total, we manage 17,600 acres within the Marcellus region,” Arway said. “Under the best possible scenario, we believe those areas have the potential to generate up to a total of $1 million a year.”

An agency spokesman said that the $1 million would be in the form of royalty payments once additional leases are approved.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources placed its gas money in the Oil and Gas Lease Fund. It is intended to provide money for conservation and recreational uses. But the state has twice raided the fund to the tune of $383 million. Of the remaining funds, some has been used for operational expenses for the department, Novak said.

That irks environmentalists, who say the state should not be forcing the agencies that are supposed to be protecting the state’s land and wildlife resources to sell off mineral rights to pay their bills.

“These agencies are starved for funding. We do not think they should be forced to sell off an asset to get operating funds,” said Jeff Schmidt, chapter director of the Pennsylvania Sierra Club. “They are burning the furniture to heat the house.”

While the environmental group is generally opposed to drilling activities on public land, the organization thinks it is particularly bad policy to lease gas rights without setting aside the money to buy or build something tangible.

“The money is supposed to be used for conservation, to invest in new assets,” he said. “They could use it to build a new visitors center or campground or trails or add bathrooms to a state park or develop a new state park,” Schmidt said.

The game commission and fish and boat commission have both designated their gas money for specific, tangible needs. The game commission has used the revenue for land acquisitions, like the McKean County property acquired last month, DiMatteo said.

The fish and boat commission designates its revenue from gas leases toward repair work for dams.

(Email: jfinnerty@cnhi.com)

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Closer Look
  • oneill.tiff Union principal receives award

    Union Area School District’s elementary principal will receive the 2014 Distinguished Female Educator Award. The award from the Tri-State Area School Study Council is to be presented April 24 to Linda J. O’Neill during the 12th annual Dr. Jean Winsand International Institute for Women in School Leadership at the Edgewood Country Club in Penn Hills.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Good to grow: Library to offer seed lending program

    Patrons of the New Castle Public Library will soon have another service to look forward to. For newcomers to gardening and seasoned pros, the library is having — for the first time — a seed lending program.

    April 22, 2014

  • Knives prompt reporting of school violence

    On a typical day last year, Pennsylvania schools caught 11 students toting weapons. They were knives, similar to ones used to slash 21 students and a security guard at a Pittsburgh-area high school, according to the state Department of Education.

    April 22, 2014

  • Ferannte.tiff Upholstery shop showcases music, talent

    Following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Jim Ferrante is working to improve his community.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local pastor helping fire victims

    A local pastor is opening up donation avenues to help two families who lost their homes to fire this week.

    April 18, 2014

  • First Energy to replace transmission line

    FirstEnergy Corp. has plans to rebuild a power transmission line between the West Pittsburg plant and a Mahoningtown substation.

    April 18, 2014

  • school.jpg Union to return assistant principal post

    The Union Area School District will have a new administrator when the 2014-15 school year starts. The board voted 8-0 Wednesday night to hire an assistant principal. Debra Allebach was absent.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Calen.tiff Callen gets state honors

    Robert Callen has been selected to receive a state award for his contribution to local government in Pennsylvania. Callen, 58, executive director of the Lawrence County Regional Council of Governments, received the Governor’s Award for Local Government Excellence.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bobosky.jpg Gas holdouts unconvinced of safety

    When Suzanne Matteo and her husband, Martin, bought their house on four acres in Pulaski Township they had a plan. They would grow a huge vegetable garden, raise lots of flowers and a few chickens and enjoy the fresh air and quiet.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Miller.jpg Wilmington superintendent discusses common core

    The Wilmington district has no reason to fear new Pennsylvania Core standards, superintendent Dr. Michelle Miller said. She talked about the standards to approximately two dozen residents at the school board’s monthly pre-meeting Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

House Ads
Seasonal Content
Section Teases
Must Read
Continuous Super Bowl Coverage