The Pennsylvania Game Commission recently announced that it would be accepting bids from natural gas companies to lease State Game Lands 36, which is located across Monroe and Overton Townships and consists of over 3,177 acres, for the development of natural gas drilling.
"We've found that state game lands can actually benefit two different ways from natural gas development," Press Secretary Jerry Feaser said. "We've discovered that well pad and pipeline construction can actually benefit wildlife in the long run. The initial excavation, construction and drilling processes are temporary habitat displacements. When the development enters the production stage, we've actually witnessed and photographed habitat improvements because well pads in production are meadow-like areas and pipelines provide a linear food supply.
"The other benefit is for the game commission, itself, in the form of increased revenue," Feaser said. "Through lease payment and eventual royalty revenue, we'll be able to provide more funding to the game lands, hire more personnel and acquire more lands."
However, according to the bid tract notice posted on the game commission's website for the public, State Game Lands 36 has portions of land that are zoned as "General Pre-approved Well Pad Locations."
"Generally speaking, we avoid sensitive areas when it comes to the natural gas development on state game lands," Feaser said. "We try to avoid aspects of unique habitats like wetlands and steep slopes. We take proactive steps to avoid development on sensitive habitat locations and minimize environmental factors. We are always looking at all the factors."
Those factors, according to the Marcellus Shale Drilling statement provided by Feaser, range from legal aspects like past leasing and if the Game Commission owns the oil and gas rights of state game lands or if there are changes in regulations to environmental impacts like water resources needed for hydraulic fracturing, pollution concerns and minimizing surface impacts.
"In many instances, the Game Commission owns only the surface rights, and a separate party owns the oil and gas rights under State Game Lands," according to the statement provided by Feaser, "Under state law, the mineral estate is dominant over the surface estate, meaning that the mineral owner has the right to use the surface in a 'reasonable manner' to access their mineral reserve. Simply put, the Game Commission can't just say 'no' to those seeking to tap into the gas reserve that they own.
"When the Game Commission owns the oil and gas rights, the agency exercises much greater control and oversight of drilling operations."
Thus, while drilling permits are issued by the Department of Environmental Protection, an operator must still receive a clearance letter from the Game Commission "if the proposed drilling operation may impact a threatened or endangered species," according to the statement.
The Game Commission will be accepting bids for State Game Lands 36 until 1:30 p.m. of May 30, at which point the bids will be opened and reviewed.
The basic criteria for the bids, according to bid tract notice, is stated that the commission is requesting a five year primary term lease of $2,000 per net acre with 20 percent royalties.
There is also a list of restrictions on the bid tract notice if the game lands were to be leased. Among those regulations is a provision that states that no drilling or other natural gas activity would be allowed on the opening days of many hunting seasons, as well the first three days of antlered or antlerless firearms deer season and all of the Saturdays of the firearms deer season.
The complete list of regulations and provisions is available for the public on the Pennsylvania Game Commission's website at www.pgc.state.pa.us.