Gas drillers bid twice what Pa. budgeted

HARRISBURG - Natural-gas drillers yesterday bid $128.5 million to develop 32,000 acres of Pennsylvania state forests, twice the revenue the state had budgeted, prompting fears of a headlong rush to overrun public lands to tap into the rich Marcellus Shale.

Gas drillers offered an average of $4,020 per acre - almost twice the amount that such leases generated less than two years ago - for the right to extract natural gas from six tracts of state forest in north-central Pennsylvania.

The robust bidding was further proof of the intense industry interest in the Marcellus Shale, a vast underground formation stretching from New York to West Virginia, and whose sweetest spots underlie much of Pennsylvania.

But John Quigley, acting secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, regarded the successful auction as a mixed blessing, saying the windfall could further whet the appetite of policymakers to lease public land to derive immediate revenue without fully understanding the long-term environmental implications of gas development.

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