Friday, May 24, 2013

Focus of fracking fight shifts to Loyalsock State Forest

The latest round in the Pennsylvania fight between drilling companies and those who oppose fracking--the method used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale--is focusing on a remote, unspoiled area some 100 miles north of Harrisburg.

Loyalsock State Forest stretches over 100,000 acres. It's home to black bear, wild turkey, bobcats, native brook trout, and rare and endangered birds. Previously not well known to many beyond its ardent number of  hunters, fishermen, hikers, birders and naturalists, the forest has gained recent attention through news stories covering the latest chapter of the fracking controversy.

In Lovers of Pa.’s Loyalsock Forest Fight to Limit Drilling There, State Impact reports: 
Loyalsock is now the site of a tense three-way dance among energy companies, environmentalists and state regulators over whether, where and how drilling should be allowed in this state forest. (Paul) Zeph, who has a bird-call app on his phone, says the Loyalsock serves as a nursery for migratory birds that come from the tropics. He says more drilling will fragment the forest, leaving miles of clearings for new roads and pipelines that will welcome bird predators like raccoon, opossums, and blue jays.

State Impact
explains that while the state owns the surface rights, it does not control all of what lies below.

About two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s state forests sit atop Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits. The state has leased 385,400 acres to drillers, but there’s a moratorium on new leases.
 Another 290,000 acres, where the state does not own the mineral rights, are currently under development. Cases where ownership of the land surface differs from control of the mineral rights beneath are called “split estates.”
Hiking trail near Rock Run Bridge in the Loyalsock State Forest. Photo by Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY/Newsworks
That’s the case with a section of the Loyalsock State Forest known as the “Clarence Moore” tract. Clarence Moore was a speculator who purchased the mineral rights from their original owner, the Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company. His holdings were later transferred to Anadarko Petroleum and Southwestern Energy Company. 
These privately held sections of the forest lie beneath some of the most treasured parts of the Loyalsock, including The Old Logger’s Path, Rock Run and Sharp Top Vista. Anadarko’s plans to open up those new forest areas for drilling have brought the three-way tension to a new pitch.   ......
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Anadarko owns the natural gas lying beneath about 25,000 acres in the Loyalsock.  DCNR [Pa's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources] says the state maintains “above average” surface rights on about 18,000 of those acres, meaning Anadarko has to negotiate with DCNR for access to drill.   But the state says, thanks to past court rulings, the situation is less clear on about 7,000 acres. In those areas, the state says the gas company holds the upper hand.  ..........
DCNR says Anadarko has offered the state $15 million dollars for access to drill.  The department made a counter offer of $22 million. So far, no agreement has been reached.
Dick Martin, of the Pennsylvania Forest Coalition, is one of many who worries the state is not driving a hard-enough bargain: “Let’s do some really creative horse trading. Let’s try to swap some rights here, where DCNR can protect the most special places. There are special plants, there are rare, endangered birds up here.”
This is why many groups are pushing for a seat at the table as Anadarko and state officials continue their negotiations. DCNR has responded to the public pressure, and says a public meeting on drilling in the Loyalsock will be scheduled for June.

State Impact
's story includes video interviews with Loyalsock advocates, a DCNR spokesperson and statements by Anadarko Petroleum. We recommend it as a solid backgrounder.

Related environmental news stories:

DCNR Sets June 3 MEETING On Possible Loyalsock Gas Drilling
Controversy builds over Loyalsock forest drilling 
Should PA allow Anadarko to Drill for Gas in Loyalsock State? 

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