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Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf to sign order barring drilling of new oil, gas wells in state forests, parks

| Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, 11:27 p.m.
Gov. Tom Wolf arrives for his first day of work at the Capitol building on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015 in Harrisburg.

Oil and gas companies once again will be barred from drilling new wells under state forests and parks in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Wolf is set to sign an executive order reinstating a moratorium on new leases for oil and gas drilling under state-owned forests and parks, according to his office.

Wolf is expected to sign the order Thursday morning at Benjamin Rush State Park in Philadelphia.

The order arises in Wolf's second week in office and reverses an executive order issued by former Gov. Tom Corbett in 2014 that ended a blanket ban on drilling leases. The Corbett administration had agreed to delay new leasing until a legal challenge to his plan was resolved.

A Commonwealth Court decision this month opened the door for the state to proceed with the plan to expand drilling in forests and parks. The state has taken no action on leases since a 2010 deal with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. to drill beneath 33,000 acres of state forest land.

Environmental groups have long called for a halt to drilling in public parks. The oil and gas industry has favored expanding development across state lands, pointing to the royalty revenue it generates for the state.

“This deeply misguided and purely political action to unnecessarily ban the safe and tightly regulated development of natural gas from beneath taxpayer-owned lands flies in the face of common sense,” said Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents all major drillers in the state.

Drilling and fracking critics including the Sierra Club and PennFuture cheered the announcement as a campaign promise fulfilled and a public health and environmental safeguard.

“There's broad public support to keep fracking out of our state parks and forests, (and) during the campaign Governor Wolf made a commitment to prevent new leasing of our public lands, and we're pleased to see him follow through on that commitment,” said Joanne Kilgour, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club.

Private natural gas and oil wells in state forests added $582 million to Pennsylvania's budgets from 2008 to 2012, more than tripling the combined revenue of the prior 60 years, according to a report by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources last year.

Katelyn Ferral is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5627 or kferral@tribweb.com.

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