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DCNR To Open 15 Day Comment Period On Loyalsock State Forest Drilling Plan
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Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Ellen Ferretti Wednesday announced the department will seek public comment once a draft Surface Development Management Agreement has been negotiated to protect the natural and recreational resources of a 25,000-acre tract known as the Clarence Moore lands in the Loyalsock State Forest, Lycoming County.

The state does not own the subsurface rights to this land. Anadarko and Southwest Energy Company each own or lease 50 percent of the subsurface rights and have requested access to extract natural gas.

At present there is no known date for the comment period as all parties are still in discussions and no development plan has been submitted for department review.

“For about a year now, DCNR has been meeting with a small group of stakeholders to inform them of the progress of talks between Anadarko and Southwestern Energy Company,” Ferretti said at a meeting of the department’s Natural Gas  Advisory Committee in State College. “From previous public input we understand that there is a unique interest in this particular tract of land and that we needed a much broader way to communicate with the public.”

“To that end, although we have not reached an agreement, the department is committing to a process that will involve sharing the final draft agreement with the public for comment, once that draft is in place.”

Public Comment/Notice

Ferretti noted that DCNR will allow 15 days for public comment on the document, which will then be reviewed and considered before an agreement would be finalized. A timeframe has not been determined for completion of the final draft.

DCNR will publish notice of the comment period in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and issue a news release at that time to make sure all interested parties are informed.

A copy of the agreement and development plan will be posted on the DCNR website for review.

Members of the public currently can submit written comments on this issue to DCNR by email to: loyalsock@pa.gov.

DCNR Use Agreements

DCNR uses agreements to manage oil and gas activity on state forest lands where it does not own the subsurface rights. The Surface Development Management Agreement will protect Commonwealth assets on the surface while outlining reasonable infrastructure development to extract natural gas. It will include a development plan for the entire 25,000 acres.

Unlike a permit decision, there is no law or regulation that outlines or requires any process or timeframe for talks or agreements where the subsurface rights are held privately.

DCNR’s priorities in protecting the natural resources and recreational opportunities on the Clarence Moore lands include:

— Minimizing surface disturbance to the greatest extent possible;

— Limiting impacts on trail users on the 27-mile Old Logger’s Path trail that circles the lands or relocate trail if necessary;

— Reducing fragmentation from pipelines, right-of-ways and roads;

— Avoiding or minimizing activity in wetland areas and important habitat for threatened or endangered species;

— Avoiding or minimizing development in the headwaters of the Rock Run

waterway; and

— Mitigating noise impacts from compressor stations.

“Our main interest is protecting this resource. That is our mission. It’s our job to balance the protection of habitat and recreational resources such as the Old Logger’s Path with the various uses of the state forest, including gas extraction. Our multi-disciplined team of professionals is working diligently to that end,” Ferretti said.

Any development by the subsurface owners would also be subject to the required environmental reviews and permitting process with the Department of Environmental Protection.

For more information about possible gas development on the Loyalsock State Forest, Click Here for a fact sheet.  For more information generally about natural gas developments and state forests, Click Here.

Reaction

Rep. Rick Mirabito (D-Lycoming) said he is pleased the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced it will seek public comment on an agreement to expand natural gas drilling in Loyalsock State Forest, but he has some concerns.

“The people spoke and DCNR finally listened,” Rep. Mirabito said. “It is clear that the voices of the over 100 people who packed the Mary Lindsay Welch Honors Hall at Lycoming College on Monday led the department to seek public input.”

Mirabito said that while he is pleased DCNR is accepting public comments on the drilling proposal, the proposed 15-day comment period is too short.

To ensure that as many people can respond to the plan as possible, the comment period should be at least 30 days, he said.

He also suggested that DCNR should hold at least one public hearing on its proposed draft plan and environmental statement where the public has the opportunity to ask questions and give input.

"This announcement is a victory for the citizens of Pennsylvania," Rep. Mirabito said. "DCNR has realized that it cannot expand natural gas drilling in state forests without public input. The public deserves a voice in what happens on state lands."

In response to the DCNR announcement, the Save the Loyalsock Coalition issued the letter below, thanking the Department for acknowledging the Coalition's repeated request for greater public participation, but also expressing concern that a 15-day public comment period is too short to provide an adequate opportunity for public involvement.

In the letter, the Coalition sets forth the specific elements of a meaningful public participation process and respectfully requests that DCNR follow such a process for the Loyalsock.  The text of the letter follows.

Dear Secretary Ferretti:

We write concerning the recent announcement that the Department will conduct a 15-day public comment period on the final draft Surface Disturbance Management Agreement (“SDMA”) between the Department and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and Southwestern Energy Production Company (collectively, “Companies”) for the Clarence Moore lands in the Loyalsock State Forest

We understand that the SDMA will include the Companies’ proposed development plan as an exhibit.

First, we thank the Department for acknowledging and responding to our repeated requests for public involvement in these development plans.  However, while we appreciate the opportunity to comment, we also believe that the Department’s proposed 15-day comment period will be entirely inadequate for the public to review, understand, and comment on documentation that we assume will be 100 pages or more in length. 

This is especially true if the documentation includes the Department’s environmental reviews and other impact assessments concerning the Companies’ proposed development.  We believe strongly that these assessments must be included for the public to be able to evaluate the final draft SDMA.

By way of comparison, when the Department proposes a transfer or exchange of State Forest land–no matter how small the area–it advertises the proposal in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and local newspapers for at least 60 days and accepts comments for 30 days. See 17 Pa. Code § 25.2. 

Under Pennsylvania law, thirty-day comment periods are standard for many permitting matters and proposed transactions or programmatic changes.  Even a simple change in Pennsylvania’s Smallmouth Bass “Catch and Release” Program requires a 30-day comment period.

Given the ecological and recreational importance of the Clarence Moore lands, as well as the volume and complexity of the information at issue, we believe that the public comment period on any final draft SMDA and proposed development plan should be sixty (60) days, and should include at least three (3) public hearings.

Of course, given the Commonwealth Court’s decision in Clarence Moore v. DER, 566 A.2d 905 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1989),  we continue to believe that an SDMA is the wrong legal instrument for the DCNR to be negotiating at all–that the Companies need a right-of-way from the DCNR to use the 18,870-acre “yellow tract” area because, assuming that the Companies have good title to the oil and gas under the Clarence Moore lands, under Clarence Moore the DCNR has exclusive control of the surface of that area. 

We have stated these concerns before, and will reiterate them during the formal comment period.  Meanwhile, we respectfully request that the Department’s public comment process for the Clarence Moore lands include the following elements:

-- A 60-day public comment period following publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin;

-- Three public hearings, including one in the Williamsport area, with publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and one newspaper of general circulation;

-- Public disclosure on the Department’s website of all environmental reviews and other impact assessments (e.g., recreational impact assessments) by the Department and third parties;

-- Recording and collection of the public comments; and

-- Preparation of a comment and response document by the Department.

Please provide written confirmation at your earliest convenience that the Department’s public process will include these elements.

Thank you. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely, on behalf of all members of the Save the Loyalsock Coalition,

Mark Szybist, Staff Attorney, PennFuture

Joanne Kilgour, Director, Sierra Club PA Chapter

NewsClips:

Public Will Get To Weigh In On Loyalsock Forest Drilling

State To Seek Comments On Drilling  Below Loyalsock Forest

DCNR Defines Allowable Drilling Activities On Public Lands

House Bill Would Require Hearings On Leasing DCNR Lands

Lt. Gov. Candidate Rues Lack Of Severance Tax

Senate GOP Looks To McCord On Corbett Vetoes


8/4/2014

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