Last week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett rescinded a policy that required well operators who wanted to drill for natural gas in state park and forest land to obtain an environmental impact assessment statement from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) before applying for a drilling permit. The 4-month old policy, which former Governor Rendell imposed in October 2010, provided for increased cooperation among the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the DCNR, and well operators in addressing drilling permit applications. The policy was applicable in situations where the state owned the surface rights to the land, but the subsurface mineral rights were privately held. According to former DCNR Secretary, John Quigley, the policy was a "common-sense approach to mitigating or avoiding any environmental, recreational and aesthetic impacts from the well drilling." The Corbett administration, however, has described the newly-rescinded policy as "unnecessary and redundant" as operators are already required to mitigate environmental damage and are held to responsible drilling practices by the DCNR and DEP.
Some commentators have viewed the rescission as Governor Corbett's first step towards fulfilling his promise to lift Pennsylvania's current moratorium, also imposed by Rendell in October, on new leasing of state forest lands for natural gas drilling where the state does own the mineral rights.