HARRISBURG - The Loyalsock Coalition, a group dedicated to protecting Loyalsock State Forest, hand-delivered more than 12,000 signatures to Gov. Tom Corbett's capitol office Thursday. The petitions urge the state to hold public hearings and to conduct a public comment period on gas drilling plans in the forest.
State Rep. Greg Vitali, Democratic chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, joined the group for a news conference.
Vitali and others urged the Corbett administration to hold six public hearings across the state, to conduct a public comment period of 90 days or more, and to listen to residents' concerns.
"Loyalsock State Forest is home to some of Pennsylvania's most beautiful and treasured natural resources," Vitali said. "Gov. Corbett should do everything in his power to minimize its degradation."
Calls to Corbett's office were not returned by press time Thursday.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has held a public hearing about Anadarko Petroleum Corp.'s interest in drilling in the forest.
Environmental organizations later learned through an open records request that DCNR did not record comments made at that hearing in Williamsport.
"We now learn that the comments of people like Robin Mann, Sierra Club's former national president, who took the entire day to travel from Philadelphia to Lycoming College, were never recorded by DCNR," said Jeff Schmidt, director of Sierra Club's Pennsylvania chapter.
"It is clear that the Corbett administration has to stop the charade and undertake a real public hearing process to hear concerns about gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest. If they don't, we will call for an investigation of the administration's use of public funds to mislead the public," Schmidt said.
While there was no stenographer present, top DCNR officials were at the meeting and took their own notes, said Christina Novak, press secretary, DCNR. The department does not have a policy in place to record comments, Novak said.
The public has other avenues for public comment, Novak said, such as DCNR's email. Plus, DCNR has held other stakeholder meetings, such as a July 24 meeting requested by groups involved in which it was clarified that DCNR does not have complete control of surface rights throughout the 25,000 acres in the forest, Novak said. While that meeting was not a closed meeting, DCNR did not do any public outreach for that meeting, Novak said.
Loyalsock is a 114,000-acre forest in Bradford, Lycoming and Sullivan counties. It is home to hiking trails and Rock Run, an exceptional value stream.
Anadarko's proposal calls for constructing 25 well pads, installing 60-foot-wide gas lines that would cross the trail multiple times and building a compressor station and impoundment areas, according to Bob Laylo, House Democratic Communications office.
Anadarko and another drilling company own the mineral rights to about 19,000 acres in Loyalsock State Forest.
Legal analysis indicates that on about 7,000 of the 25,000 acres, DCNR cannot prohibit surface access, Novak said. On 18,000 acres, DCNR can strongly influence, but not prohibit, subsurface owners from accessing the rights under their ownership from the surface, Novak said.