Marcellus Shale Exploration & Farmland Preservation in Pennsylvania
Posted: 4 Nov 2008
Date Written: November 2, 2008
The recent boom in drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation, hidden deep below the surface in parts of northern and western Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and Maryland, will undoubtedly have immediate and lasting consequences for countless acres preserved through Pennsylvania's Farmland Preservation Program, private land trusts, and tax incentive programs such as the Clean and Green Act. Many Pennsylvania farms preserved through these programs are likely to encounter pressure to permit drilling on preserved farms if such tracts are located in areas with high concentrations of natural gas. The Farmland Preservation Program, as it was originally enacted, does not prohibit drilling for natural gas on preserved land. Consequently, farmers have had the option to allow drilling on their preserved farms, which some have allowed. However, the recent increase in drilling activity has raised concerns with the Farmland Preservation Program, farmers, and those concerned with conservation that such drilling may inhibit the goals of the preservation program. On the other hand, the added source of income may be a way for farming families to pay off outstanding debt associated with their agricultural operations and to pass the farm on to the next generation without having to sell or subdivide land to residential or commercial developers.
This paper will discuss the intersection of these two topics, drilling and farmland preservation, specifically addressing a handful of Pennsylvania preservation programs and laws and the ways that each program seeks to deal with drilling on preserved land. Additional questions such as whether the current preservation programs and laws are consistent with the policy objectives underlying the programs, whether the programs are consistent with one another in furthering preservation, and whether the current programs could benefit from the recent increase in drilling, will also be incorporated. Also, the approach of neighboring states will be addressed as a way to suggest some possible ways for Pennsylvania to clarify its position on drilling for natural gas on preserved farmland in order to create a consistent approach from a policy perspective.
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