Pennsylvania Governor to Halt New Gas Drilling Leases in Forests
Harrisburg, Pa. (AP) - Gov. Ed Rendell sought to restart talks over a natural gas extraction tax Monday, a day before he was poised to issue an executive order banning any further leasing of state forest land for Marcellus Shale drilling.
The Democratic governor's office said he will sign what was described as a "strategic moratorium" at an event in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Rendell said Monday he wants Republicans who control the state Senate to resume negotiations over a prospective tax on the drilling.
He proclaimed the tax proposal dead last week, blaming legislative Republicans for what he described as their failure to offer a reasonable compromise on the rate - one of multiple issues that have stalled progress.
The governor, who is leaving office in January, said at a news conference that he would work "night and day" to reach a compromise if Senate Republicans were willing to hold a lame duck session after the Nov. 2 election.
"If they are willing to come back after the election ... then we'll find a room somewhere and we will sit together until there is a tax, until there is a reasonable tax," he said.
A Republican spokesman said Monday they would be "very willing participants" if there are talks with all four caucuses this week about a deal that would get to the governor's desk before the election.
"However, (a) lame duck session - particularly with a lame duck governor - is not the time to impose any sort of tax increase," said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware. "The Senate announced more than eight months ago that there will not be a regular lame duck session, and that fact has not changed."
Less than a year ago, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced it was making nearly 32,000 acres of state forest land available for leasing by gas drilling companies.
The Marcellus Shale, a rock bed about a mile beneath New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, has produced a rush of exploration and land deals in the state, and could become the nation's most valuable natural gas field. Its production employs a process known as hydraulic fracturing, in which water and chemicals are pumped underground to create fissures in the rock and release the gas.