September 23, 2009

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Siptroth calls for caution in leasing for natural gas drilling

HARRISBURG – State Rep. John Siptroth, D-Monroe/Pike, participated in a Capitol news conference where he joined other lawmakers and environmentalists in expressing concerns about a plan in the tentative budget agreement to lease 200,000 acres of state forest this year and next year for natural gas drilling.

"Any proposal to lease public land for drilling should at least set money aside to repair environmental damage that could occur," Siptroth said. "One needs to look no further than the areas of our state where coal was mined to see the possible consequences."

Lawmakers at the news conference said the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources should have final say on how many areas are leased for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation and the location of those leases.

They also said the Oil and Gas Fund in DCNR's budget, which collects revenues from leases on state land currently used to reinvest in the park system and to fund DCNR, should not be eliminated. The budget agreement would redirect $145 million currently in the fund to the General Fund to help plug this year's budget shortfall, and it calls for eliminating the Oil and Gas Lease Fund and directing future state oil and gas royalties to the General Fund.

Siptroth said the proposal comes at a time when budget negotiators are considering cutting the state Department of Environmental Protection's budget from $229 million to $173 million. He said those cuts would impact the agency's ability to oversee increased drilling.

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