Officials report little progress on drilling in state forest

A discussion held Thursday to consider possible natural gas development in Loyalsock State Forest revealed that the two sides considering the issue appear to be no further along in resolving legal issues and other problems involving drilling.

At least – nothing that is being shared with the public at this time.

The webinar sponsored by Penn State Extension did provide an opportunity for the media to ask questions about Anadarko Petroleum’s proposal to drill in state forest lands. Among the questions that remain are the issue of surface and subsurface rights. In some areas, the state owns rights for both.

State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Allan said it remains a complicated issue. Among the issues is surface access and rights to the surface access.

“We are still trying to determine reasonable access,” he said.

Allan said the department has not discussed purchasing mineral rights.

“We have no idea what the value would be so we have not had discussions in purchasing mineral rights,” he said.

Questions also surround Anadarko’s ability to drill given a Rendell Administration moratorium on drilling. Republican Governor Tom Corbett overturned the Rendell executive order preventing the leasing out of more park land to drillers. He has said he’s against the state forest moratorium, but has yet to reverse it.

A 2010 state study concluded that leasing out any more land poses harm to vulnerable or wild sections of state forests. Department officials have noted in the past their main role is to protect the assets of forest lands. And that point was driven home once again Thursday.

Arianne Proctor, Marcellus Shale program manager, DCNR, noted that efforts are made to minimize environmental impacts on areas where drilling occurs on state forest lands. Monitoring of the land, home to outdoor recreation, plants, wildlife, water and soil must also come into play. Rock Run, which flows through the state forest, is considered an exceptional value stream.

The timber rattlesnake, yellowbelly flycatcher and bats, she noted, which live in the forest, cannot survive if their habitat is interrupted. Proctor noted that drilling involves use of the land to locate compressor stations, freshwater impoundments for the fracking process and pipelines. Rock Run and Yellow Dog roads will not be used for gas operations.

DCNR State Forester Dan Devlin said said there has been some talk of perhaps a land swap that would allow drilling to occur in a particular area while protecting another part of the forest.

As yet, however, it’s only been in the discussion stages.

Among the areas of concern, he said, is the Old Loggers Path.

“We would try to avoid those areas (for drilling) as much as possible,” he said.

DCNR officials said the agency will continue to manage impacts while balancing any trade-offs.