Advocacy groups discuss drilling in state forest

Grassroots groups and other organizations have bumped heads with state officials in recent months over a controversial proposal to open up natural gas drilling in Loyalsock State Forest.

But a meeting Wednesday that included DCNR and environmental and outdoors advocacy groups reportedly went well.

“Overall, it was a very positive meeting,” said Thomas Au, state conservation chairman for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Au said state officials expressed concern about the very special area known as the Clarence Moore Tract of the state forest being considered for drilling.

Anadarko Petroleum and Southwestern Energy Co. own about 50 percent of the subsurface rights and have requested access to extract natural gas, according to department officials.

They claim that on some 7,000 of the 25,000 acres, the state cannot prohibit surface access.

“However, we do believe we can strongly influence and ensure responsible access to minimize impacts to the natural and recreational features on these lands,” said Acting Secretary Ellen Ferretti.

DCNR officials have acknowledged that Anadarko had approached the state agency about accessing subsurface rights on the entire 25,000 acres, but they have not otherwise talked to the company in about a year.

“They were willing to listen to our concerns,” Au said.

Curt Ashenfelter, executive director of Keystone Trails Association, an advocacy group on behalf of the state’s hiking trails, said the public needs to be informed about DCNR’s next meeting with Anadarko.

“We continue to seek a 90-day comment period after any Anadarko proposal so we can understand environmental impacts,” he said.

Au, for his part, said he felt department officials were very positive about conducting a more public process.

Ferretti said DCNR’s mission is to protect the state forest by balancing the protection of habitat and recreational resources such as Old Logger’s Path with the various uses of the land including gas extraction.

“We have received a large volume of correspondence, phone calls, inquiries from the public and legislators, and read media accounts, all of which have given us a good representation of the concerns and questions from the public,” Ferretti said. “We share these concerns and will be incorporating that information into our negotiations with the subsurface owners.”

Other groups attending the meeting included Responsible Drilling Alliance, Citizens for Pa.’s Future, Audubon Pennsylvania, and the Forest Coalition.