Debate over drilling in state forest

Posted: April 04, 2013

Pennsylvania conservation officials have invited about 30 state and local leaders to rural Sullivan County on Thursday to explain the complex negotiations underway over Marcellus Shale drilling in Loyalsock State Forest.

But most of the environmental activists who are pressuring the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to restrict drilling in the forest were not invited to the private meeting.

The organizations, including Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, have asked DCNR to block Anadarko Petroleum Corp. from accessing the surface of more than 18,000 acres of the popular recreation area, where Anadarko owns the mineral rights.

The activists say the state has rebuffed their requests to disclose drilling plans for the forest. They called on DCNR Secretary Richard J. Allan to hold public hearings on the drilling plans.

Allan instead scheduled Thursday's private meeting with a select group of legislators, local officials and local environmental groups at the Loyalsock headquarters in Dushore. "Invitations are not transferable," the letter from Allan said.

Allan has not concealed his irritation with the "self-serving" environmental groups that have portrayed DCNR as giving away the store.

In a March 25 letter to Mark Szybist, a Penn Future lawyer who has led the effort to force DCNR to allow public input, Allan said the meeting's purpose was "to exchange information and hopefully set the record straight regarding some of the persistent misrepresentation of facts prepetrated by statewide activist groups."

The controversy involves some land in the Loyalsock State Forest the state has owned for many years, but where it does not own the mineral rights. Anadarko is the current owner.

The state typically would have little control over drilling activity on land where it does not own the mineral rights. Courts have ruled that the sub-surface owner needs access to the surface in order to mine or drill the minerals.

About 18,780 acres of the land where Anadarko owns the minerals included an unusual provision in the deed that allowed its surface access to expire in 1983.

The activists say the state has a rare opportunity to restrict natural-gas extraction on that land because Anadarko doesn't have surface access.

But Anadarko has told DCNR that it could challenge that claim under more recent court rulings that affirm the the owners of mineral rights have surface access.

Rather than fight it out in court, DCNR has been negotiating with Anadarko for the last year to exchange surface access for payments and assurances that surface disturbances would be minimized.

DCNR's negotiating position with Anadarko is complicated because Anadarko has uncontested surface access on 7,000 other Loyalsock acres where it owns the mineral rights. It could drill as it pleased from those tracts, which include some of the most environmentally sensitive land in the forest.

State Rep. Greg Vitali, (D., Delaware), a member of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said he plans to hear out DCNR at Thursday's meeting.

"It isn't the black-and- white situation that was initially described to me," he said.


Contact Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947, @Maykuth or amaykuth@phillynews.com

 

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