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    Rendell halts natural gas leases on state forests

    Moratorium will last only as long as the incoming governor will allow. Democrat Dan Onorato would continue it, while Republican Tom Corbett would overturn it.

    Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has put a halt to all new natural-gas leases on state forest land. The ban comes on the heels of a failed effort to tax companies drilling in the lucrative underground gas reserve known as the Marcellus Shale.

    Rendell has always been a big supporter of tapping the Marcellus Shale. Under his watch, the amount of state forest land leased to industry increased about 20 percent. But with just about two months left in his tenure, he put a halt on future drilling in the state forests.

    “I’m signing this moratorium today in name of the people who have already had deleterious effects from gas drilling,” Rendell said Tuesday, listing a number of drilling accidents that have occurred on private land.

    The moratorium will last only as long as the incoming governor will allow. Democrat Dan Onorato would keep Rendell’s order in effect, while Republican Tom Corbett would overturn the moratorium.

    This worries John Quigley, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

    “The science is telling us that we cannot do any more leasing without compromising the ecological integrity of the forest. We’ve reached the limit,” said Quigley. “If we lease any more, we’re going to jeopardize the sustainable certification of the forest. That will jeopardize 90,000 jobs in Pennsylvania as the entree into the green market.”

    Quigley said there are 20 gas-producing wells drilling in state forests today. But, even with the current moratorium in place, that number could reach 10,000 to 20,000 in 20 years.

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