Heirs to 19th century lumber baron claim gas rights in Loyalsock State Forest
A group representing the descendants of a 19th century lumber baron is claiming most of the mineral rights in an area of the Loyalsock State Forest where there are controversial plans to expand natural gas drilling– it’s a direct challenge to two gas companies who say they own the rights and have already submitted development plans to the state.
Shortly after the Philadelphia Inquirer published an October 2012 story about environmental groups fighting the gas companies’ plans, a Boston-based group called the Thomas E. Proctor Heirs Trust sent a letter to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
“As you may know, the article contains inaccurate information regarding the ownership of the natural gas rights,” wrote trustee Charles Kendall. “These rights were originally reserved in a deed dated October 2, 1894 from Mr. Proctor… Proctor’s heirs have been managing and leasing the property ever since. Any attempts by others to develop the Proctor gas rights under Loyalsock Forest… will result in appropriate legal action.”
At issue is a 25,000 acre swath of the forest known as the Clarence Moore lands– a treasured area for wildlife and recreation. Two gas companies– Anadarko Petroleum and Southwestern Energy– say they own the mineral rights and are currently working with DCNR on development plans.
DCNR has said the Clarence Moore tract presents a unique case because of the intense public interest and the fact that the state does not own the mineral rights.
It’s not clear whether the trust’s claim will influence the gas companies’ plans. The Proctor Trust has filed a number of other lawsuits against drillers, contesting their ownership of mineral rights in Pennsylvania. The group has not yet filed a lawsuit in this case.
A spokesman for the trust declined to comment, citing the possibility of future legal action.
Anadarko referred inquiries to DCNR. Neither the department nor Southwestern Energy responded to questions.
DCNR has surface rights on about 18,000 acres of the Clarence Moore tract. Anadarko and Southwestern 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.
Joanne Kilgour heads the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club, which is a member of the Save the Loyalsock Coalition. The group pressured DCNR to allow the public to comment on the development plans before drilling begins– right now there is no timetable for when that will happen.
“It’s important to have this or any other claims or ambiguities around mineral rights resolved before final negotiations proceed with development,” she says.