Pennsylvania

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DCNR Agrees to Discuss Drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A Seneca Resources well pad in the Loyalsock State Forest. Anadarko Petroleum owns mineral rights in the Loyalsock, which it plans to develop.

For months, environmentalists and residents living near the Loyalsock State Forest in Lycoming County have been pushing the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to openly discuss plans to drill in sensitive areas of the forest and accept public input. But time and again, they were rebuffed. On Friday, DCNR announced it’s planning to hold a public meeting. It will also have its own experts participating in a web-based information session next week about plans to drill in the forest.

“DCNR has heard from numerous individuals and organizations on this issue through letters, phone calls and in a meeting this month with local stakeholders,” DCNR Secretary Richard Allan said through a release. “This webinar gives us an additional opportunity to exchange information and respond to questions about potential gas development in the Loyalsock, where the state does not own the subsurface gas rights.”

Plans to drill in the state forest are complicated by the fact that the state does not own the mineral rights on about 25,000 acres. Anadarko Petroleum owns about 50 percent of those rights. Another company owns the rest. Due to previous court decisions, DCNR has no say over what happens on 7,000 acres, which the energy companies could decide to develop at any time. But the agency says it’s unclear how much control it can exercise over the surface use of the remaining 18,000 acres.

DCNR spokeswoman Chris Novak tells StateImpact that the 7,000 acres where the state has no control, happen to also be the most ecologically sensitive.

“When we don’t own the mineral rights,” says Novak, “we do always attempt to talk with companies because it helps us protect a resource and it also helps them, by providing some certainty related to their development plans.”

Novak says no agreements have been made with either company. But DCNR had been in conversations with Anadarko. Because the state does not own the mineral rights in question, there would be no royalty payments. But Novak says an offer of about $15 million by Anadarko was rejected by the agency, which made a counter offer of about $22 million. That money would go towards the oil and gas lease fund, which is earmarked for recreation, conservation and flood control projects.

Environmentalists have been pushing the agency to exercise full surface rights on the 18,000 acres, in order to control any detrimental impacts of such a pristine forested area. Ralph Kisberg, with the Responsible Drilling Alliance, says a meeting is a good start, but DCNR should take public input.

“By hearing from the public,” said Kisberg, “DCNR can be encouraged to fight for the rights of the Commonwealth over the rights of the gas rights owners, which usually seems to be the administration’s chief concern. It is a complex issue, but through a public hearing process perhaps DCNR can get their priorities straight and negotiate their legal obligation to the gas rights holders from a position of strength and not one of weakness.”

Another company, Seneca Resources, is already drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest having purchased leased subsurface rights, sold off during the Administration of former Governor Ed Rendell. DCNR’s Chris Novak says those wells have been producing high volumes of gas.

“And so one would imagine that makes gas development in this area attractive,” said Novak.  

A spokeswoman for Anadarko Petroleum says so far the discussions with DCNR have “focused on the identification and protection of important species and habitat.”

“We recognize the importance of public lands in Pennsylvania including the Loyalsock State Forest,” wrote Mary Wolf in an email. ”As with all of our operations on state forest land, we are looking to minimize surface disturbance and protect special places like Rock Run.  We will work with DCNR and PADEP to communicate any approved plans as appropriate.”

State Rep. Greg Vitali (D), says there will be a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on the issue in May.

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