BY KEVIN WOODRUFF
With the insurgence of oil and gas exploration throughout the Marcellus shale, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is dealing with how to handle interest from companies in drilling on State Game Lands.
Pennsylvania Game Commission District 7 commissioner Jay Delaney said that the commission is spending a lot of time dealing with oil and gas related issues.
The most recent of which was a gas lease of State Game Lands 142 and 237 located in Asylum and Terry Townships in Bradford County.
This particular lease is one of few in the Northeast Region, with the game commission leasing a total of 439.53 acres.
There are also leases on SGL 289, SGL 172 and SGL 239, all in Bradford County.
“The board votes on whether or not we want to lease the Game Lands,” Delaney said. “This is after the gas companies reach out to the regional offices and employees do research on the potential lease.”
Delaney said that the PGC looks at an assortment of issues, including who owns the sub-surface mineral rights, along with the impact on wildlife and hunters who use the Game Lands.
“We look to preserve the integrity of those Game Lands,” Delaney said. “And protect their wild resources.”
Delaney uses the lease on Game Lands 142 and 237 as a model of what’s to come, and said that he believed the lease was a success because of its terms.
The land, leased to Chesapeake Appalachia, is not to be disturbed on the surface, meaning that no drilling will be done on the Game Lands themselves.
“There won’t be any well pads on those Game Lands,” Delaney said. “And nothing on the ground will be disturbed.”
Currently, none of the Game Lands #57 in Wyoming County have been leased because of current litigation over mineral rights, with regards to sub surface drilling.
In Susquehanna County, Delaney said that gas companies have reached out putting wells on SGL 35, SGL 70, and SGL 236.
However, all of the potential oil and gas exploration is still in the research phase.
“At the Game Commission’s January meeting, there will be a substantial amount of talk about oil and gas issues,” Delaney said.
He noted that some of that may have to do with exploration in Susquehanna County.
The PGC receives hundreds of requests about oil and gas issues, and Delaney said that none of them are a home run in his eyes.
“When I vote on these issues, a lot goes into those votes,” Delaney said. “I don’t just vote yes. I look at all of the issues, and hope to minimize the impact.
“We want people to be able to use the Game Lands for the reasons they were meant for.”
Delaney said he believes that the deal the PGC has with Game Lands 142 and 237 does just that.
“We found a way not to disrupt the surface,” Delaney said.
Delaney will be plenty busy in the months and years to come, as there are a total of 289,000 aces of Game Lands in District 7 which encompasses Carbon, Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.
“It takes a lot of infrastructure to work with these issues,” Delaney said. “It’s a huge drain on the resources of the agency.”
Pete Sussenbach, Land Management Supervisor for the Northeast Region, said that biologists from the Northeast Region look at every aspect of a possible lease in great detail.
Sussenbach said the Game Commission looks primarily at the area’s physical attributes and how to minimize surface impact.
From there, they come up with a proposal to send to Harrisburg detailing their recommendations.
“So far we’ve been lucky,” Sussenbach said. “There is zero surface impact on the SGLs 142 or 237.”
Sussenbach noted that out of the 369,000 aces in the Northeast Region, comprised of Bradford, Susquehanna, Sullivan, Wyoming, Lackawanna, Wayne, Montour, Northumberland, Columbia, Luzerne, Carbon, Monroe and Pike counties, less than 5,000 acres has been leased.
He attributes that partly to the way many of the Game Lands acres were purchased.
“Some of that land was gifted to the Game Commission,” Sussenbach said. “And the Game Commission doesn’t own the mineral rights to some of it.”
Looking at what the Game Commission does to minimize the impact of oil and gas exploration on natural resources, Sussenbach said that PGC follows a few guidelines.
He said that PGC dictates surface impact, doesn’t allow wastewater ponds on Game Lands, restricts use of pipelines on Game Lands and restricts gas companies work time during hunting seasons.
Game Lands Wells
Below are current statewide figures on State Game Lands oil and gas exploration.
*72,425 acres of Game Lands leased.
*37,958 aces where PGC owns mineral rights.
*32 wells on State Game Lands (2,159 total in PA)
*105 well permits issued on State Game Lands (total in PA)
*$33,654,722 revenues to Game Fund.