Drill for gas in public recreation areas or drain lakes is the choice confronting John Arway.
John Arway, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, loves fish, fishing and boating. He is a true conservationist, values the outdoors, and is an excellent public servant.
In short, John is the perfect person to wrestle with imperfect choices about what to do with 19 of 56 dams owned by the PFBC that have been designated High Hazard. High Hazard is an official Department of Environmental Protection designation, made after careful inspection, meaning that a dam has maintenance issues and a dam failure would threaten life and property. Inspecting private and public dams across Pennsylvania is just one of many vital duties entrusted to DEP.
DEP orders the draining of lakes, when repairs to dams needed to protect public safety are not made. Such orders are tragic and can damage local communities and economies by destroying a recreation asset that brings joy and business to an area. Draining a lake is not a good option but sometimes there is no other choice.
The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports the bill for fixing all 19 PFBC High Hazard dams is $46.5 million.
www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/marcellusshale/leasing-state-land-for-shale-wells-called-a-business-decision-648526/?print=1. This probably does not shock you, but PFBC does not have the money. Fishing and boating licenses would skyrocket, were they priced to include such expenses. Also other state programs like the excellent Growing Greener 2 program that fixed some dams have exhausted funding.
But gas under PFBC lakes and the Marcellus Shale boom provide the PFBC a way to raise substantial funds that could repair dams and avoid draining more and more lakes. That option is entering into a gas drilling lease to allow the production of gas under PFBC lakes and other property.
Lease and royalty income from the gas drilling actually offers PFBC a means to finance dam repairs. Of course, gas drilling is not without impacts, especially during the first year of intensive well development. Yet, strong leases and horizontal drilling can reduce risks and increase benefits. In fact, horizontal drilling can allow gas to be produced from under lakes, without requiring surface disturbance of PFBC property.
I am sure that John Arway would prefer not drilling under lakes for which he is the steward. He surely wishes he had a means to pay for vital repairs other than drilling. But when the choice is between draining lakes and drilling for gas, drilling for gas looks pretty good.