April 27, 2013
By Mary Wilson
State House Democrats and environmental advocates are asking the Corbett administration to block natural gas drilling in a state forest that straddles three counties in the thick of Marcellus Shale country.
Anadarko Petroleum owns subsurface rights to tens of thousands of acres of the Loyalsock State Forest, but it could only access the shale below by way of scattered chunks of land that also happen to be ecologically sensitive.
Now, some lawmakers want Anadarko’s request for an agreement that would allow drilling in the forest to be turned down.
But Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spokeswoman Chris Novak said the state sees its control in less black-and-white terms than some environmentalists would suggest.
"In the circumstance where the commonwealth does not own the mineral rights, we are required by law, by some legal decisions, to provide reasonable access to the owner, or to the person who leases those rights," Novak said.
She said the agency began drafting a tailor-made agreement with Anadarko to give it access to what it owns while protecting the forestlands it does not, but there’s no timetable for a final agreement.
The department will hold a web-based information session later this week on the issue of proposed drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest.
In the meantime, Democratic state Rep. Greg Vitali is urging the Corbett administration to block drilling in the publicly-owned forest.
"This wonderful area, which I had the opportunity to hike on April 5, is threatened by proposed drilling by Anadarko. And, um, it’s a complicated legal situation," Vitali said.
He said the state has the better bargaining position here, since Anadarko, which wants permission to drill by way of sensitive surface areas, will be regulated by the state for a long time to come.
Jeff Schmidt, with the Sierra Club of Pennsylvania, said the state has control over the surface access of sensitive land in this state forest, and the DCNR is not exercising that authority.
"How much is enough?" Schmidt said. "The drilling industry in Pennsylvania currently has access to over 700,000 acres of publicly owned state forest land. That’s over a half of the state forestland that overlays the Marcellus Shale footprint."