The proposal from Republican Sen. Don White, which passed the state Senate overwhelmingly last fall, would authorize state officials to lease rights to the oil, gas and coal beneath certain state lands.
The state already has about 600,000 acres of forestland available for gas drilling, but has considered leasing other property, such as land surrounding state prisons.
Under the measure, a state-owned college that hosts a gas well would be allowed to keep 40 percent of royalty payments received from gas drilling, with the remainder to be distributed among the other State System colleges. Any royalties from drilling on those campuses currently would be deposited in state coffers.
At least one state-owned college already has campus land leased for drilling: California University of Pennsylvania's Student Association Inc., a student nonprofit separate from the university, entered into an agreement with Antero Resources Appalachian Corp. in January 2011.
The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee did not alter what funds colleges could receive under the bill, but did adjust how royalties from leases on other state-owned land would be distributed.
Rep. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango and the committee's chairman, noted that the new Marcellus Shale drilling law already included funding for several of the programs that the leasing bill targeted, including the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund and PennVest, which pays for water and sewer projects.
After the committee's revisions, 20 percent of drilling royalties would remain with the state agency whose land is being leased, and the remainder would be deposited in the Oil and Gas Lease Fund. That account is for recreation and conservation projects, but also has been used in recent years to help bridge gaps in general state spending.
An aide to Mr. White, the bill's sponsor, said the senator was pleased to see the measure moving forward, but added that he remains interested in directing some of the funds toward infrastructure projects.
Supporters said potential revenues from the proposal would help the state-owned colleges in keeping their tuition low, and would provide learning opportunities for students.
"What better opportunity for universities to teach their students that production of oil and gas can be done in an environmentally safe way," said Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren. "What better way to teach our petroleum engineering and students going into the chemistry of oil and gas production than to have a real hands-on experience."
Democratic Rep. Greg Vitali of Delaware County opposed the proposal, calling it "wrong-headed" to encourage natural gas drilling near population centers like college campuses.
The measure passed the committee on a vote of 21-2. It now awaits consideration by the full House, and then would require another vote in the Senate.