Anadarko plan faulted

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will not approve Anadarko’s recently released Loyalsock State Forest Development Plan as is because Anadarko does not own the entirety of the tract’s minerals, according to DCNR Press Secretary Christina Novak.

“We can’t have an agreement with just a 50-percent owner – it needs to be with both companies,” Novak said.

The other mineral rights lessee, Southwestern Energy, has not yet approached DCNR about developing its interests there, according to Novak.

“Anadarko could have an agreement with Southwestern that says we are willing to go along with what Anadarko has proposed, but both companies would need to be involved,” Novak reiterated.

The Office of Open Records recently ordered the release of Anadarko’s development plan following a Right-To-Know law request from the environmental group PennFuture. PennFuture Staff Attorney Mark Szybist was relatively unenthused about obtaining the 18-month-old plan, calling the document “stale.”

“I’m not sure that there’s anything at all in it that we didn’t already know,” Szybist said. “I suspect at this point that things have changed.”

Significant portions of the document have been blackened out, or redacted, including maps and information about land disturbance. Anadarko requested those redactions, according to Novak.

“(DCNR) could have chosen to release all of (the plan) but they decided not to. Keep in mind, just because an agency is able to withold something doesn’t mean they should,” Office of Open Records Executive Director Terry Mutchler said.

Anadarko submitted the plan to DCNR in March of 2012 and marked the document “Confidential & Proprietary.” DCNR denied an initial request by PennFuture to obtain the document but the Office of Open Records determined that some of the information is, in fact, public.

“This case illuminates the direct clashing of two concepts: protecting a company’s competitive edge versus providing information that may be in the public’s interest,” Mutchler said.

The law pertaining to the protection of trade secrets gets priority in this situation because “the Right-To-Know law says that when there’s two laws that compete, the other law always wins,” according to Mutchler.

Despite numerous redactions, some sensitive information regarding the potential development was not removed from the declassified document. For example, Anadarko has proposed a 300-foot setback from Devil’s Elbow Natural Area for one of its well pads – a deviation from DCNR’s standard 600-foot setback from Wild and Natural Areas requirement, according to Novak.

In the draft Surface Use Agreement, Anadarko describes the potential need to recreate basking areas and habitat for the threatened Allegheny woodrat and the timber rattlesnake, a threated species candidate.

The state has worked with gas companies to successfully recreate these habitats before, according to Novak.

“In the Tiadaghton State Forest, the Game Commission through the permitting process for three well pads worked with PGE to do some select tree cuttings to create woodrat habitat on 57 acres at three remote locations,” Novak said.

DCNR also has worked with a company to move a pad site farther away from a confirmed rattlesnake den and to track the rattlesnakes “to learn their habits during the construction of a nearby pad,” Novak said.

Because the current plan is only a draft, the public may be entitled to more information when a final agreement is reached, according to Mutchler.

“This is a good case for the Legislature to consider as it makes decisions about what information related to fracking, particularly in the state forest, is going to be made public,” Mutchler said. “There are many times when we issue a decision where I think, ‘Wow, as a citizen I’d like to know more,’ but in this case, the law is clear.”

PennFuture has until Nov. 15 to request a reconsideration of the Office of Open Records’s determination or to take the matter to court, Mutchler said.