PA state rep searching for answers about gas drilling plan


By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

Gov. Tom Corbett wants to net $75 million in next year’s budget by expanding natural gas drilling under state parks and forests as long as it doesn’t disturb the land’s surface.

State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, wants more information about the plan, but contends he’s been stonewalled even after filing an open-records request with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“It is clear that the Corbett administration knows far more than it is telling about its drilling proposal and wants to keep the public and the (Legislature) in the dark for as long as possible,” Vitali, the Democratic chairman of the House Environment Resources and Energy Committee, said this week in a news release.

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS: Pennsylvania state Rep. Greg Vitali alleged Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration is stonewalling his attempt to obtain more information about a natural gas drilling proposal.

Vitali filed a Right-To-Know request March 5 seeking records that would shed light on how the administration came to the $75 million figure, who might be interested in leasing state land for oil or natural gas development and detail the mineral rights the state owns in state parks, among other information.

The DCNR denied most of Vitali’s Right-To-Know Law request, contending portions of it were overly broad. Vitali called that “nonsense.”

The agency also said it was unable to locate records “that specifically indicated $75 million through non-surface impact drilling on Commonwealth-owned land.”

“This would not reflect well on the Corbett administration if that, in fact, was the case,” Vitali said.

The lawmaker’s comments marked his latest salvo against one of Corbett’s revenue ideas.

Vitali’s already hosted a news conference opposing the idea of further leasing state parks and forests and announced the filing of his open-records request while contending the administration was not forthcoming with information.

That move prompted a written response from Patrick Henderson, Corbett’s deputy chief of staff and energy executive. He called Vitali’s actions “transparently political and hypocritical.”

Vitali voted for budgets under former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell that included leasing state forest land for natural gas development, Henderson pointed out in the letter.

Henderson met with Vitali last week, he said, to try to help Vitali obtain the information he wanted, but the lawmaker wasn’t interested.

“He seems to be more interested in issuing press releases than having a conversation,” Henderson said.

The feud likely will continue. Vitali indicated he’s probably going to appeal the DCNR’s response to his open-records request.

As for Vitali’s question about how the $75 million figure emerged, Henderson said while there’s no “magic formula,” the administration believes it to be an attainable goal based on advice from DCNR and the budget office.

The DCNR also doesn’t have a list of targeted lands to be leased, and there have been no companies yet to contact the state about leasing additional state lands — though Henderson expects to see some action when Corbett signs the executive order allowing the nonsurface impact drilling.

As for any belief from Vitali that there could be a plan ready to implement and operators lined up and ready to go, Henderson said there’s no conspiracy.

“That’s just absolutely not true,” Henderson said. “It just doesn’t exist.”

Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.