The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has released a drilling company’s proposal to develop natural gas from a contested section of the Loyalsock State Forest after the Office of Open Records ruled that the public has a right to review at least portions of the plan.
DCNR has described details of Anadarko Petroleum’s Loyalsock proposal in public meetings and resources posted online, but it had not previously released a copy of the company’s March 2012 development plan, which Anadarko had marked “confidential and proprietary.”
PennFuture won the right to receive a redacted copy of the plan through an Office of Open Records decision last month and the environmental group hailed the decision at the time as “a victory for transparency in government and for the Loyalsock State Forest.”
But in many ways, the redacted development plan, which is posted below, reveals less about Anadarko’s plans than DCNR has described, since pages of maps and details like the number of miles of new road development have been blacked out.
“This plan as redacted really doesn’t give us any more information to evaluate the impacts than we already have,” PennFuture Staff Attorney Mark Szybist said. “It is frustrating to have to work this hard and get relatively little new information.”
DCNR said in a June presentation that the plan calls for the construction of 26 well pads, 15.6 miles of new roads, 15.5 miles of rebuilt existing roads, 34 miles of new pipeline right-of-ways, four compressor stations and five earthen impoundments to hold fresh water, for a total of about 500 acres converted from its current state.
Natural gas drilling already takes place in Loyalsock State Forest. But the proposal to develop a 25,000-acre area known as the Clarence Moore lands is controversial because the parcel’s complicated ownership history gives DCNR a degree of control over what happens on about 18,000 acres, even though the state does not own the oil and gas rights beneath it. Drilling companies have the right to access the surface on 7,000 acres, which are interspersed with the portions the state controls. Anadarko holds the oil and gas rights beneath half of the 25,000 acres and Southwestern Energy has a lease agreement to explore the other half.
Environmental advocates see the state’s unusual surface rights as a unique opportunity for DCNR to restrict drilling on the prized parcel, which contains rare and special habitats and is beloved by hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.
The proposal is also controversial because so much of it was developed out of public sight until advocates pressed for more public involvement and transparency. DCNR eventually held meetings for stakeholders and the public and posted information about the proposal on its website.
DCNR spokeswoman Christina Novak said the development plan released this week does not reflect a final agreement with the company nor has it been formally revised since it was submitted to the agency a year and a half ago. The agency has “promised to keep the stakeholder groups that we’re working with informed of what happens next,” she said, “there just hasn’t been anything more to tell them since we met with them in July.”
Szybist said he has seen too little evidence of a commitment to involve the public in a meaningful way.
“We’ve had to fight them for most of the year to get this borderline meaningless document,” he said. “That doesn’t give us a whole lot of confidence that DCNR and Anadarko are going to commit to a more transparent process than they have.”
DCNR believes it needs to honor the private ownership of the subsurface rights but that it can also “strongly influence the development in this area” through a negotiated agreement, Novak said. It is still unclear how such an agreement might differ from Anadarko’s proposal or how long it might take to develop it. DCNR is not guided by any formal process or timeline, Novak said.
“There have not really been any substantial back and forth conversations with Anadarko nor with Southwestern,” she said.
Anadarko spokeswoman Mary Wolf said the proposed development plan is typical of what companies submit to DCNR prior to beginning operations in state forests. She said the company is pursuing its plan “in total conjunction with DCNR in terms of all of the protections that need to be in place for the environment.”
She told the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, which first reported on the development plan today, that the plan is “still very much a work in progress.”
Wolf also justified the redactions, most of which cover information related to geology or seismology that the company considers competitive, she said. Any redacted information that is already publicly available was likely blacked out during an initial round of redactions and was simply not added back into the document, she said.
Szybist questioned the scope of the redacted information, but said PennFuture received the plan less than an hour before its ability to appeal expired.
“I have no idea how a competitor could improve its position by knowing how many miles of roads Anadarko plans to build,” he said.
*This post has been updated with comments from Anadarko.