Rock Run drilling meeting cries out to be public session

There’s an important meeting being held Thursday by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources regarding proposed natural gas drilling in Loyalsock State Forest.

The plans of Anadarko Petroleum to drill for natural gas on nearly 25,000 acres in the Rock Run area of McIntyre Township has attracted questions and resistance, so the information meeting is vital.

There’s only one problem.

While there are about 30 “stakeholders” invited to the meeting, including Lycoming County Commissioners, township supervisors, the state Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Responsible Drilling Alliance, the public and news media aren’t invited.

So who actually attends the meeting, what questions are asked, what answers are given and the tone of the dialogue all will be information that will be unavailable via first-hand accounts of the media or general public.

And while DCNR is not subject to the state’s Sunshine Law providing open access to meetings, there exists high potential that quorums of public bodies that are subject to the Sunshine Law will be in attendance.

We have no reason to be cynical about the actual dialogue that occurs.

We have no reason to be mistrustful of Anadarko or opponents to the company’s plans.

We don’t even have a great quarrel with DCNR and are glad the meeting is being held. It’s overdue.

Our quarrel is that the meeting’s ground rules turn it into a private, backroom discussion. At the very least, the spirit of the Sunshine Law cries out for this to be a session that includes the general public and the media.

A larger concern is that the actual letter of the Sunshine Law will be violated.

And, no, an after-the-fact discussion with the media is not a replacement for a public meeting.

It’s not too late for DCNR to make this an open meeting and we hope they will consider doing so.

This matter is, after all, of high public interest. All citizens of Pennsylvania have a vested interest in it.