Closed-door meeting set on Rock Run natural gas drilling

A meeting being held Thursday by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources about natural gas drilling in Loyalsock State Forest is being kept closed to the general public and media.

Only certain elected officials and a pair of environmental groups are being invited to participate in a discussion with DCNR about Anadarko Petroleum’s proposal to drill for natural gas on nearly 25,000 acres in the Rock Run area of McIntyre Township.

Environmental groups say drilling in the forest will spoil pristine forests, wetland and streams inside the Pennsylvania Wilds.

But the opportunity to provide input to DCNR on the process from citizens and environmental groups has fallen on deaf ears, they say.

That will continue Thursday, as about 30 invited “stakeholders” – including Lycoming County commissioners, a number of township supervisors, the state chapter of the Sierra Club and the Responsible Drilling Alliance meet at the closed-door session, according to a previous report from National Public Radio’s StateImpact website.

While DCNR is not subject to the state’s Sunshine Law that provides for open access to meetings, a quorum of elected officials from any municipality at the meeting could constitute the need to hold an open meeting, according to Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association in Harrisburg.

“They’ve invited public officials,” Melewsky said. “The problem, at this point, is we don’t know who is going to attend. Who shows up is the real question.”

She said the public’s right to know what takes place at a meeting held by a government agency is circumvented in cases such as this.

“I don’t know if I agree with that, certainly, in light of the public interest in this issue. This is obviously a critical issue for residents and taxpayers,” Melewsky said.

According to Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law, “Official action and deliberations by a quorum of the members of an agency shall take place at a meeting open to the public unless closed … ” under certain exceptions.

One of those exceptions is for agency conferences, but no deliberation of agency business may take place, according to the law.

“Reporters will not be able to sit in on the meeting, but we will make our DCNR folks available to talk after the meeting,” said Christine Novak, DCNR press secretary.