West Virginia's state budget is withering.

Some WV lawmakers want to start tapping the publicly owned mineral wealth beneath West Virginia's state forests to generate revenue for the state.

WV Legislators have directed the Division of Natural Resources to examine the possibility of leasing natural gas drilling rights under the state's forests.

"There appears to be a growing interest in leasing the rights," said DNR Director Frank Jezioro.

Senate Finance Chairman Walt Helmick said gas leases could provide a big revenue boost for WV-DNR, who spends about $86 million annually.

Helmick said, "We also want to determine how much wealth is out there."

Officials estimate that the state owns 42,577 acres of oil and gas deposits beneath all of the eight state forests except Cabwaylingo, with a 71,000 surface acreage.

Officials also estimate that the earth beneath this land contains 57,817 acres of coal, although Jezioro said there's been no discussion of developing those resources.

Natural gas drilling on WV public lands already includes active wells on three of the forests, including Kanawha State Forest.

A poorly cut access road there prompted 2007 legislation meant to control and limit how these drilling operations disturb the surface.

State forests, except Kanawha, do timbering, managed by the Division of Forestry.

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