- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Gov. Tom Corbett plans to issue a new executive order that would allow natural gas to be extracted from below state parks and forests only when exploration companies drill on adjacent, privately owned land, his administration said Tuesday.

Corbett’s $29.4 billion budget proposal released Tuesday counts on $75 million in bonus payments from leases for such drilling that had been prohibited by a three-year-old executive order issued by Corbett’s predecessor, said senior Corbett aide Patrick Henderson.

Instead, Corbett will issue a new executive order that will continue to prohibit new leases on public lands that will result in additional or new surface damage from drilling, Henderson said.

However, Henderson said the order will allow the below-ground extraction of the natural gas from underneath public lands through horizontally drilled well bores that are a mile underground and can reach a mile from the vertically-drilled well on private land.

Drilling on state land under leases that predate Corbett’s administration or in areas where the state does not own the below-ground mineral rights could continue.

The drilling will happen anyway on private land, Henderson said. Among other concerns with the drilling on public lands is the fragmentation of the forest by well pad construction, road building, pipeline laying, chemical spills and other drilling activity that can disturb or pollute animal habitat and recreational areas.

The $75 million in bonus payments would go to the state’s general fund. Royalties from any natural gas extraction beneath the public lands would be used to help the state improve state parks and forests, Henderson said.

Cindy Dunn, president of the Harrisburg-based environmental group, PennFuture, said Tuesday that such a move by Corbett should undergo a much more public process.

Money from the extraction of publicly owned minerals should be used to improve public lands, not transferred to the state’s main bank account, and drilling nearby will still result in damage to public lands, Dunn said.

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