Governor Rendell Says Responsible Planning Generates $128.4 Million From State Forest Land Lease, Safeguards Natural Resources

Jan 14, 2010, 13:04 ET from Pennsylvania Office of the Governor

Calls Greater Use of Natural Gas, Clean Energy Critical to Nation's Energy Future

HARRISBURG, Pa., Jan. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Governor Edward G. Rendell today said that he was pleased with the results of Pennsylvania's latest land lease sale, especially given the fact that such a conservative number of acres were opened to bidding—a move his administration took to limit the impact on the state's natural resources.

Bids were opened earlier this week for six tracts in state forests that total nearly 32,000 acres. The successful bids, which were offered Jan. 12 by five companies and made official Jan. 13 by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, will generate approximately $128.4 million for the commonwealth. Details of each bid are available at www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/gasleasebidders.aspx.

"On Tuesday, we received proof positive that our careful planning and preparation to minimize the number of acres put out to bid was the right approach, because those less-than-32,000 acres generated more than twice the amount we projected for this fiscal year," said Governor Rendell. DCNR was responsible for generating $60 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year through the land lease.

"Now, we can walk into next year with $68 million in unanticipated oil and gas revenues. This will certainly make a difference in what will likely be another very challenging budget year," the Governor added.

The six tracts that were leased total approximately 31,967 acres—or approximately 1.5 percent of Pennsylvania's total state forest land—and are located in the Elk, Moshannon, Sproul, Susquehannock, and Tioga state forests in Cameron, Clearfield, Clinton, Potter, and Tioga counties.

"Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale natural gas reserve is extremely valuable and we have taken—and will continue to take—a responsible approach to limiting exploration on state forest land," Governor Rendell said. "This latest lease, however, demonstrates that good stewardship of natural resources is compatible with responsible fiscal policies. We should not subscribe to the false choice some insist we must make between the environment and the economy."

The Governor noted that leasing state forest lands for natural gas exploration is not a new practice. Since 1947, DCNR has held 74 lease sales that today represent 410,000 state forest acres. The last auction in 2008 raised $160 million for development rights to 74,000 acres.

Today, there are approximately 750 oil and gas wells on state forest land producing royalty payments that enable DCNR to improve and protect Pennsylvania's parks and forests. The first $50 million in royalties raised from wells on these most recently leased tracts will be earmarked similarly by DCNR.

In addition to new revenue, Governor Rendell said drilling also creates jobs. The Pennsylvania Economy League predicts that 26,000 full- and part-time jobs will be created this year, and 100,000 jobs by the end of the decade due to Marcellus exploration and extraction statewide.

The Governor noted that his approach to developing Pennsylvania's natural gas supplies has always been to balance the economic opportunities against the state's environmental responsibilities and that he further believes natural gas can play a role in America achieving energy independence and addressing climate change.

"I believe that we must view natural gas exploration as a unique economic opportunity and as a critical part of America's strategy to decrease our dependence on foreign oil and cut down our carbon emissions," said Governor Rendell.

"Ensuring that more natural gas is supplied by Pennsylvania will create jobs here and orders for Pennsylvania companies, but that cannot happen at the expense of our environment. We have beefed up our permitting requirements and pace of inspections, and I continue to believe that we need a severance tax—just as they are doing in many other states. I will propose that this tax be effective by July, and I hope the General Assembly will embrace this proposal.

"I further hope that the General Assembly turns its attention to the urgent work needed to update our alternative energy portfolio standards," added the Governor. "Our standards were passed in 2004 and they have made a huge difference, but have since been surpassed by the aggressive plans of other states. That has put us at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting clean energy projects to Pennsylvania, which means fewer new jobs here."

The Governor specifically cited examples such as Maryland and New Jersey, which have adopted renewable energy requirements of 20 percent by 2022 and 22.5 percent by 2021, respectively. He also noted that Illinois—the seventh-largest coal-producing state in the nation—has set a 25 percent by 2025 requirement. 

"Recently, the Pew Charitable Trusts reported that Pennsylvania had the third-highest number of clean energy jobs nationally. That is good news, but we cannot hold onto that ranking if our portfolio standards don't keep pace with other states."  

For more information on natural gas leases in state forests, visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us. To learn about Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us.

Media contact: Michael Smith, 717-783-1116

Editor's Note: Governor Rendell today sent the following letter to members of the General Assembly urging them to move legislation necessary to impose the Marcellus Shale extraction tax and to update and improve Pennsylvania's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards to keep the state in the forefront of America's energy independence efforts.

January 14, 2010

To Members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly:

On Tuesday we received proof positive that we made a wise move in prudently limiting the number of acres bid for Marcellus gas leasing.  Bids were opened earlier this week for six tracts in state forests.  The successful bids, which were offered by five companies and made official yesterday by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, will generate approximately $128.4 million for the Commonwealth. This exceeds our expectations and means we can walk into next year with $68 million in unanticipated oil and gas revenues, with fewer acres exploited than planned.  This revenue will certainly make a difference in another very tough year with respect to our budget.

Because I share some of the serious concerns about the potential impact of natural gas drilling on our public lands, I have directed DCNR Secretary Quigley to form a partnership with the largest drillers to document best practices that limit the footprint of the drilling and moderate the need for new roads or trails through the forest.  This work will kick off this spring.  DCNR is recognized nationally for their commitment, skill and effectiveness and will continue to be the steward of our lands.  I have also directed DEP to beef up our permitting oversight and pace of inspections.  We are aggressive in our environmental oversight of drilling – and we should be.  

As you know, last year I proposed that we impose a tax on the Marcellus natural gas extraction.  Based on information from the industry, I pulled back from that proposal with the intent of giving the industry a year to get its sea legs and embed itself in Pennsylvania.  We have seen tremendous activity in the past year, with DEP issuing 1,984 Marcellus Shale drilling permits, and in the same period operators reporting 763 Marcellus wells drilled (compared to just 195 Marcellus wells drilled in 2008).  The industry has informed DEP that it expects it will seek to permit 5,200 Marcellus wells just in 2010:  a huge jump or a tripling of the number of Marcellus wells now permitted.  This week's auction results of more than $4,000 bid per acre – considerably higher than we anticipated – is further proof of how well the industry is doing and how much this commodity is valued.  

Given that the industry is now firmly footed here and doing very well, I believe we should pursue the imposition of a tax on Marcellus natural gas extraction.  I propose that this tax be effective this July, and I hope the legislature will embrace this proposal.

Pennsylvania has an opportunity to hold onto the mantel of a leading state in alternative energy development as well as in natural gas extraction.  Between the passage of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS) in 2004, and nearly one billion dollars in state investments, we have made some remarkable progress. By the end of 2009, Pennsylvania will have 17 operating wind farms providing 800 megawatts of electricity – enough power for 270,000 homes. We ranked second nationally in wind power growth in the second and third quarters of 2009 and doubled the amount of wind power operating in Pennsylvania in a single year.  

We are also making tremendous strides in bringing more solar capacity on line.  By December 2010, Pennsylvania will rank in the top five states for solar in terms of megawatts operating.  With the programs that we have in place today and the funds made available to us through the federal stimulus, this will bring our total solar capacity to nearly 60 megawatts, or enough to power 7,200 homes.  

In 2004, when we passed our standards, they were considered among the most ambitious standards in the nation.  The law required that by 2021, eighteen (18) percent of all retail electricity sold in Pennsylvania had to be from clean and renewable resources.

But as you know, the alternative energy field is changing very rapidly and there are new developments being announced almost every day.  Other states have raised the bar since 2004 by enacting more aggressive requirements for renewable energy:

  • Maryland now has a renewable requirement of 20 percent by 2022;
  • New Jersey has a renewable requirement of 22.5 percent by 2021; and
  • Illinois – the seventh largest coal producing state in the nation – has a renewable requirement of 25 percent by 2025.

We also have to take another look at solar energy.  Pennsylvania's solar requirement is currently 0.5 percent by 2021, which is below other states.

  • New Jersey's solar requirement is 2.12 percent by 2020.
  • Maryland's is 2 percent by 2015.
  • Illinois' requirement is 6 percent by 2015.

Recently, the Pew Charitable Trusts reported that Pennsylvania has the third highest number of clean energy jobs among the fifty states.  That is good news, but we cannot hold onto that ranking if we don't keep pace with other states with respect to our portfolio standards.  When other states enact higher requirements for renewable energy, they make their own states more attractive for future investments and put our competitiveness at risk.  We need to preserve the Commonwealth's position as a leader in alternative energy and protect our investments and the thousands of associated jobs by raising our requirements for renewable energy.

I appreciate your attention to this request, and I look forward to working closely with you to get both of these important energy bills done.  

Sincerely,

Edward G. Rendell, Governor

SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor



RELATED LINKS

http://www.governor.state.pa.us


http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/