|Harrisburg, PA – In a decision designed to minimize environmental impacts while maximizing revenues and enhancing benefits for all users of the Commonwealth’s aquatic resources, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission today approved the establishment of a non-developmental Natural Gas Leasing program and a Water Access program on properties it controls.
“With over 43,000 acres of property under its control, the Commission has the opportunity to generate alternative revenues through the sale or lease of natural gas rights and through access to water,” said Executive Director John Arway during a special meeting of the full Board of Commissioners.
“The purpose of the programs is to ensure that properties purchased with angler and boater dollars are managed consistent with the agency’s mission, today and in the future, and that the Commission provides Pennsylvanians and visitors to the Commonwealth with the highest quality fishing and boating opportunities through the wise management and use of those resources,” he added.
Under the two programs, projects may be approved on lands or waters when the projects are designed and implemented in such a way that they have little or no negative impact on the resource or property use. The Commission will not enter into natural gas leasing projects which are developmental in nature, meaning it will not permit the installation or use of production wells or any other type of natural gas production equipment on its properties. Under the Water Access Program, the Commission will consider requests to use its property to access, acquire or transport water resources.
Commission Vice President Robert Bachman explained that the natural gas and water access opportunities can be developed consistent with the agency’s Resource First policy while ensuring that the Commission – and the anglers and boaters it serves – are equitably compensated for the activity.
“In the case of water access to our properties, we will be minimizing local impacts by significantly reducing truck traffic and placing strict rules on when and how the water can be withdrawn, including modeling best management practices such as those used to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species,” said Dr. Bachman. “Allowing access to the gas under our properties via surrounding properties which are already under lease ensures that anglers and boaters derive the economic benefits of the activity without exposing the Commonwealth’s aquatic resources to any greater level of risk.”
In addition, this effort may reduce the number of well pads and roads required to explore an area, thereby lessening the environmental fragmentation that results from drilling activities, Dr. Bachman added.
Revenues generated from these projects are to be used to fund programs and projects that support the agency’s mission in the form of capital infrastructure improvements, with priority being given to the repair and restoration of the 16 Commonwealth-owned high hazard dams managed by the Commission. Other potential projects which may be considered after top priority infrastructure needs are met include habitat restoration and enhancement projects, public access, and innovative environmental research projects.
Executive Director Arway noted that the program is particularly significant since the Commission receives no funding from the state’s general fund and relies on fishing licenses, boat registrations, and federal funding tied to fishing and boating to support everything it does.
“We have been successful in securing Growing Greener and H2O PA Act funding to support priority infrastructure projects, but we continue to have a $36 million shortfall to repair the 16 high hazard dams we manage on behalf of the Commonwealth, many of which are in the Marcellus region,” he said. “Absent any sort of state-level Marcellus impact fee, no other permit fees to reimburse us for the work we do to support land and water development, and no compensation for water withdrawals or water degradation, this is really our only available opportunity to maintain the level of services and recreation we provide without asking the General Assembly and Governor to raise license fees.”
Today’s action authorizes the executive director to pursue these opportunities. While subsequent Commission action is required to lease natural gas rights, the executive director may grant revocable licenses for the use of its properties and may further grant water rights when these grants will not adversely affect fish protection and propagation.
The mission of the Fish and Boat Commission is to protect, conserve, and enhance the Commonwealth’s aquatic resources and provide fishing and boating opportunities. For more information about fishing and boating in Pennsylvania, please visit our website at www.fishandboat.com.