(EDITOR'S NOTE: See Friday's paper for more news from this conservation forum.)
The state Fish and Boat Commission's decision to enter into a non-developmental gas lease with Big Star Energy that allows the company to drill under Rose Valley Lake to reach natural gas deposits was a hot topic during a forum held at Lycoming College on Wednesday evening.
Before a packed auditorium, Executive Director John Arway explained that the lease will ensure that the gas industry compensates the public for use of state-owned resources.
Arway said the decision to enter into the lease partially was inspired by a precedent set by Ralph W. Abele, a former executive director of the commission, who had to make a similar decision regarding commercial sand and gravel dredging in the 1970s.
"I believe Ralph would have wanted me to be fiscally responsible," Arway said, citing the commission's drop in revenue during the last few years due, in part, to a decreased demand for fishing and boating licenses.
Arway told the public that gas pockets under the lake still could have been reached, even if the commission had denied the lease.
"Even if they had to drill nearby, it would lower the pressure - which will cause the gas in that pocket to shift," Arway said.
He said the commission would have failed the public if even one molecule of the gas on the state's land was taken without compensation.
The commission has entered into a non-developmental gas lease, Arway added, which will allow the gas company to drill horizontally under the lake to reach the deposits. He assured the crowd that no gas wells will be erected on commission-owned land.
"I can't stress this enough - there will be absolutely no surface interruption," Arway said.
He said revenues generated by the lease will be used to complete necessary repairs on commission-owned dams across the state.
Skip Wieder, of the Susquehanna River Heartland Coalition for Environmental Studies, promptly handed Arway a list of repairs he said need to be completed around Rose Valley Lake. The list was complied by local conservationists.
"These are things around Rose Valley Lake that we would like you to consider fixing," Wieder said. "Money is being generated from that property and we would like to see some of it go back."
Arway assured him that Rose Valley Lake will be properly maintained and that he will work on trying to find money to complete necessary repairs, regardless of the lease.
Arway also outlined a plan for road conservation. Instead of drilling companies trucking water in, he said he would like to see water be removed directly from the lake. Arway said extensive research would be done to ensure that the amount of water removed would not negatively effect the lake's ecosystem.
"We have no immediate plans to do water withdraws. If we agree to them, we will do everything we can to minimize impact on locals and the environment," Arway said. "I will be able to pull the plug for that pump at any time, if need be."
According to the commission, the agreement allows Big Star Energy to have total control over drilling. Arway said the contract Big Star entered into is much stricter than what is required by the state, to ensure that the ecological impact will remain low.
A copy of the Rose Valley lease agreement will be on the commission's website, www.fish.state.pa.us, within the next month.