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Many at public hearing plead to keep state forest drill-free

Several hundred people, more than a few of them bearing “Keep Drilling Out” signs, packed Lycoming College’s Wendle Hall for a public hearing on potential drilling for natural gas in Loyalsock State Forest.

The meeting, held by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, to provide information about the issue was scheduled for two hours, but went well beyond that time limit as numerous people lined up to express their concerns about natural gas drilling.

DNCR Secretary Rick Allan and other officials talked about issues surrounding the Clarence Moore Lands in northern Lycoming County where Anadarko Petroleum Corp. owns half of the subsurface oil and gas interests on the 25,000-acre tract and Southwestern Energy Corp. is believed to hold the lease for the other half of the property.

Anadarko has approached the state agency about developing its subsurface rights under its common law lands on 7,000 acres where it has the right to enter on the surface of state forest lands.

However, DCNR has control of about 18,000 acres of the surface rights, according to state officials.

Much of the land is a patchwork of surface control between private entities and the state, which leads to legal questions regarding access to the potential drilling areas.

Marcellus Program Manager Arianne Proctor noted that Anadarko has staked well pads on Bodine Mountain, but as yet its plans have not been accepted by DCNR.

So far, no state Department of Environmental Protections permits have been issued for drilling.

Overall, Anadarko is considering 26 well pads, with 34 miles of pipeline, four compressor stations, and five freshwater impoundments.

Some residents expressed concerns about drilling near Rock Run, an exceptional value stream and trout fishery running through the state forest.

“I guarantee you will never see development within the valley of Rock Run,” Proctor said.

She further stated it would be nearly impossible to place a well pad in that valley.

The state forest lands are home to wetlands and endangered plant and animal species that must be protected, she added.

Many people who spoke out during the meeting made it clear they don’t want any drilling at all in the state forest.

Gary Metzger, of the Lycoming Audobon Society, said drilling is simply not compatible to the wild land.

“It’s industrialization of rural Pennsylvania,” he said. “You can’t safely drill in Pennsylvania. Exercise your control on those 18,000 acres.”

Jeff Schmidt, director of the state Sierra Club, said DCNR should consider tapping the state’s oil and gas fund to purchase the mineral rights.

That prompted Allan to respond that they did not know their value.

Barb Jarmoska, whose home is adjacent to Loyalsock State Forest, said drilling there would be yet another sign of rapidly dwindling wild places.

“Keep hope alive. Keep it wild,” she said.

Carolyn Mazzante, of Luzerne County noted that fracking consumes many millions of gallons of water.

“Loyalsock State Forest belongs to the people,” she said.

Carmeline Churba, of Loyalsock Township, noted that environmental problems are an inevitable part of drilling and that Anadarko already has committed its share of violations elsewhere.

“Our children should have a chance to enjoy the beauty of Pennsylvania in its natural state,” she said.

State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, who did not attend the meeting, offered comments on the issue through his administrative aide, Jerene Milliken.

Milliken stated that Mirabito, who was in Harrisburg attending to legislative duties, stands committed to protecting the forest.

In addition, she noted that the lawmaker feels the state has a legal obligation to uphold its Constitution, which guarantees people the right to clean air and pure water.

Mirabito called Loyalsock State Forest a “unique jewel.”

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