Controversial plans to expand natural gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest are quietly moving forward. Last month the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages drilling on public lands, met with two gas companies who own mineral rights there.
More than a year has passed since DCNR held a contentious public meeting on the issue in Williamsport. Since then, the agency has released very little information publicly.
Nearly 500 people attended that meeting, and everyone who spoke over a three-hour period expressed either opposition or concern. In a response to an open records request from the Pennsylvania Forest Coalition, DCNR said it did not keep a record of the comments.
A DCNR spokeswoman did not respond to multiple requests to comment for this story.
The plans unveiled last summer involve 26 well pads and four compressor stations on a 25,000 acre swath of the Loyalsock forest known as the Clarence Moore lands– a popular area for wildlife enthusiasts and hikers.
Although the commonwealth controls the surface rights on about 18,000 acres, Anadarko Petroleum, along with Southwestern Energy Corporation, can exercise surface control on about 7,000 acres. Some of that land is considered the most sensitive. Opponents want DCNR to use its control over the remaining 18,000 acres as leverage to keep development off the most sensitive parts of the forest.
Earlier this month, the agency held a conference call with a number of representatives from environmental groups involved in the Save the Loyalsock Coalition.
Joanne Kilgour, who heads the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania chapter, was on the phone call and says the groups are frustrated the agency hasn’t been more forthcoming with details.
“We understand DCNR has a job to do,” she says. “We just view our role as integral to that. If we are kept in the loop with better information, the whole process could benefit.”
According to Kilgour, DCNR staff were shown a map and a PowerPoint presentation of updated plans by Anadarko and Southwestern, but no one actually received physical copies of either, so the agency says it can’t share them publicly.
“There’s a lot more telling than showing at this point,” says attorney Mark Szybist of PennFuture, who was also on the call. “We’d like to be shown exactly what the companies are proposing and be able to weigh in.”
Anadarko spokeswoman, Mary Wolf, confirmed that her company and Southwestern recently met with DCNR. She says the agency is reviewing an updated development plan and a surface use agreement, but she wouldn’t provide more specifics.
“It would be inappropriate for me to say what has changed and what hasn’t changed, because it’s a work in progress.”
Wolf adds DCNR has not given Anadarko a timeline for how long its review process will take.
State Rep. Rick Mirabito (D- Lycoming) is sponsoring a bill that would require DCNR to provide notice and seek public input before allowing gas drilling on state forest lands.
“Recent developments involving the Loyalsock State Forest in Lycoming County have shown that DCNR currently is not required to inform or engage the public in a meaningful way when it makes significant and far-reaching decisions regarding the management of these public lands,” he wrote in a co-sponsorship memo.
The House Democratic Policy Committee is holding a public hearing on the bill Monday in Williamsport.
After the phone call with DCNR, PennFuture and the Sierra Club Pennsylvania chapter sent a letter to the agency, asking for more information.
Read the letter here: