The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is holding an invitation-only meeting next week about one of the most controversial issues it’s dealing with involving natural gas drilling on state lands.
The agency has come under scrutiny over whether or not it plans to allow Anadarko Petroleum to access mineral rights the company owns underneath the Loyalsock State Forest.
At issue is a 25,000 acre swath known as the Clarence Moore lands. Anadarko owns about 50 percent of the mineral rights, but there is a legal question as to whether DCNR has to give them surface access to drill for gas.
An invitation for the April 4 meeting was sent out yesterday to about 30 local stakeholders, including the three Lycoming County Commissioners, various township supervisors, as well as representatives from outdoor and recreation groups.
“We are trying to control the size of the group so that we can have a conversation,” says DCNR spokeswoman Christina Novak.
Right now, there are no plans for a formal public hearing, but Novak says this meeting wasn’t an attempt to cut others out of the process.
“We’re not going to tell anyone, ‘Don’t talk to anyone after the meeting,’” she says.
But some groups working closely on the issue felt snubbed.
A coalition of six environmental organizations sent a letter to DCNR Secretary Richard Allan last September, asking the agency to conduct environmental impact studies and hold public hearings before allowing gas drilling.
Representatives from two of those groups (the local Sierra Club and the Responsible Drilling Alliance) have been invited to the April 4 meeting, but the rest of them (PennFuture, Pennsylvania Forest Coalition, Keystone Trails Association, and Appalachian Mountain Club) are not on the list. The invitation is listed as “non-transferable.”
“We’re very disappointed that they excluded us,” says Mark Szybist, a staff attorney for PennFuture, ”The public should be invited to comment, and DCNR has decided to circumscribe the public.”
Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware County) is among the legislators attending the meeting. He says he’s fine with having a smaller, private discussion, but he believes the Loyalsock issue ought to be the subject of public hearings.
“What surprised me was that more people were on that list than I thought, and that Anadarko was not on that list,” says Vitali.
Rep. Ron Miller (R- York County) is also attending. He’s the majority chair of the House Environmental Services and Energy Committee, and has the ability to convene a formal committee hearing, which he’s open to doing.
“I think it’s a fair question for after this meeting,” he says.
Last month at a Senate budget hearing, DCNR Secretary Richard Allan was questioned about how his agency handles drilling in environmentally sensitive areas.
“Unless I’m wrong, there’s not a public review process where people would be able to formally comment to the Department, or to yourself as the Secretary, prior to you rendering some actual formal decision,” said Sen. Jim Ferlo (D- Allegheny).
Allan replied he feels the agency uses best management practices to oversee the whole process from start to finish.
“The type of transactions I’m talking about are discussions about proprietary information with these companies that own those mineral rights,” said Allan.