Environmental groups urge Wolf to block drilling in Loyalsock State Forest

  • Marie Cusick
A wellpad in the Loyalsock State Forest. Environmental groups are urging Gov. Wolf to block plans to expand drilling there.

Joe Ulrich / WITF

A wellpad in the Loyalsock State Forest. Environmental groups are urging Gov. Wolf to block plans to expand drilling there.

Representatives from more than a dozen environmental groups sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolf Tuesday, urging him to block efforts to expand gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest.

The Save the Loyalsock Coalition includes the state’s the Sierra Club chapter, PennFuture, and the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters.

“This area is the last unfragmented forest in Lycoming County and deserves the strongest protections,” they wrote.

Although drilling is already occurring in many state forests– including Loyalsock– there are controversial plans to place 26 new wellpads and four compressor stations in a 25,000 acre area popular for recreation, known as the Clarence Moore lands.

Shortly after taking office, Wolf issued a moratorium on all new oil and gas leasing in state parks and forests, but it doesn’t apply to this tract of land.

That’s because the state doesn’t own the mineral rights. However, the state does control surface rights to about 18,000 acres. Anadarko Petroleum, along with Southwestern Energy, can exercise surface control on about 7,000 acres.  Drilling opponents want the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to use its control over the remaining 18,000 acres as leverage to keep development off the most sensitive areas. Representatives from the two companies did not respond to requests to comment.

Under former Governor Tom Corbett’s administration, DCNR said its hands were tied and it had to allow the companies to develop their mineral rights.

“Governor Wolf and DCNR know these lands are a special place,” says DCNR spokeswoman Chris Novak. “There is a complicated history of surface and subsurface ownership, as well as legal precedent. We are carefully reviewing our options and look forward to working to minimize disturbance.”

More than two years have passed since DCNR held a contentious public meeting on the issue. Hundreds of people showed up and spoke out against the project. The agency has said it will allow public comment on the development plans when they are finalized, but right now there is no timeline for when that will happen.

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