Public will get to weigh in on Loyalsock forest drilling plans
Facing mounting public pressure, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced today it will seek public comments on controversial plans to expand natural gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest.
At issue is a 25,000 acre swath of the forest known as the Clarence Moore lands– a treasured area for wildlife and recreation.
DCNR’s announcement comes less than a week after StateImpact Pennsylvania published a story about environmental groups’ concerns over the lack of transparency in the process.
“When we met with the stakeholder groups, they asked for some sort of public input,” says Dan Devlin, head of the agency’s Bureau of Forestry. “We’ve struggled with that, and we’ve finally decided on what that process will be.”
He says because negotiations between the agency and two gas companies are ongoing, the public comment period won’t begin until a final development proposal is in place.
Currently there is no timeline for when that will happen.
“We’ll put out a news release so everyone is aware, and we’ll take public comments for 15 days,” Devlin says. “The companies have certainly been willing to work with us. I think it’s a matter of reasonableness. We’re working through that.”
Although the state does not own the mineral rights under the Clarence Moore lands, it does have 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. Environmental 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 land.
At a meeting of the agency’s Natural Gas Advisory Committee Wednesday in State College, Devlin said the Clarence Moore lands are a unique case, because of the intense public interest and the fact that the state doesn’t own the mineral rights.
Plans unveiled last summer called for 26 new wellpads, four compressor stations, and five freshwater impoundments. Devlin says the agency is currently reviewing an updated draft development plan with fewer pieces of infrastructure.
To date, the agency has received about 4,000 public comments regarding the Loyalsock drilling plans through its email address: email@example.com.
Devlin says 94 percent of the comments have been form letters or petitions. Among the non-form emails, nearly a third criticized the agency’s lack of transparency.