Hellbender Journal Summer/Fall
and Gas Exploitation in the Allegheny
By Jim Kleissler
Oil and Gas Corporations
Target Salmon Creek
Creek is a pristine valley that lies in the southwestern portion
of the Allegheny National Forest. It is home to Indiana bats, Northern
goshawk, Harpoon clubtail, Long-solid mussels, hikers, campers,
fishermen, hunters, and... oil and gas corporations.
last decade, Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE) corporation has been
systematically drilling wells throughout the lower Tionesta Creek
basin which includes Salmon Creek. Nearly 500 oil and gas wells
have already been drilled, and PGE is currently pursuing plans to
drill another 100 wells.
October, 1992, oil and gas corporations have been required to obtain
storm water construction permits for the construction of new roads
and well sites for oil and gas developments. When these facilities
exceed five acres in size. Despite this, oil and gas corporations
have virtually ignored the requirement to get storm-water construction
now exceeds 750 acres of disturbance including 500 oil and gas wellsites.
But PGE has permits for only 8 of these well sites, meaning that
nearly 500 well sites have been constructed illegally. In addition,
PGE was just cited for failing to control erosion on the eight permitted
well sites that they do have. That's correct, PGE has a 0% compliance
record when it comes to erosion and sediment control.
"We intend to drill
every well that is necessary to recover oil and gas that belongs
- PGE representative September 27, 2001
A PGE oil well near Salmon Creek.
Photo by Rachel Martin
that their operations don't impact water quality, but records show
that PGE's developments in Forest County have included oil spills
that have damaged drinking water supplies and their two most recent
well sites have both been cited for inadequate erosion and sedimentation
controls. This despite the fact that state inspections of well sites
are rare. ADP has documented many more violations.
Northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Pennsylvania
Fish and Boat Commission have raised concerns about oil and gas
drilling at Salmon Creek. John Arway, chief of environmental services
for the Commission, said the cumulative impacts of hundreds of wells
can be devastating to fragile forest streams.
Creek needs your help today. There is little doubt that the Pennsylvania
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and PGE will continue
to ignore the many legal requirements detailed in both state and
federal laws. The DEP has already ignored its own conditions that
it has laid out to PGE and has conspired with PGE, without the public
present, on how PGE can design their oil and gas development to
avoid legal requirements. The DEP is supposed to be enforcing environmental
laws, instead they are training companies in how to evade environmental
help fight the Salmon Creek development by continuing to pressure
the DEP to enforce the Clean Water Act, by putting pressure on Supervisor
Kevin Elliott to stop ignoring the environmental degradation occurring
due to oil and gas developments (see article on the facing page.)
Send letters to: Bob Gleeson, Oil and Gas Program D.E.P. Northwestern
Regional Office 230 Chestnut Street Meadville, PA 16335
Facts from Fiction: The Oil and Gas Management Story
Service likes to repeat the mantra that they have no control or
influence over private oil and gas developments. This is part of
their pro-drilling agenda to mislead the American public and disengage
public concern. The following is a list of the many ways in which
the Forest Service can control drilling in the Allegheny.
to Oil and Gas Wells
management decisions must not preclude the ability of private mineral
owners to make reasonable use of the surface, as defined by deed
and public law." -
Supervisor Kevin Elliott
It is the
Forest Service's position that they can not prevent oil drillers
from drilling in the Allegheny National Forest when the drillers
own the mineral rights or a lease to those rights. This is not true.
under the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act of 1984, the U.S. Forest
Service has the right to object to wells drilled in the Allegheny.
Permits to drill oil and gas wells can be denied on the basis of
their impacts to publicly owned forest lands.
ADP filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S.
Forest Service to obtain records for every instance that the Forest
Service had objected to a particular oil and gas well under state
laws. The Forest Service responded with a letter stating that there
were no records because they had never objected to an oil or gas
well. So it is true that the Forest Service has never met an oil
and gas well that they didnŐt like.
Elliott was asked why he doesn't exercise his right to object to
oil and gas wells, ADP was told that state law did''t apply to the
Forest Service. We beg to differ.
guidance we follow for oil and gas development of private mineral
rights are clearly outlined in the  Forest Plan."
- Supervisor Kevin Elliott,
Sept. 27, 2001
Plan covers management actions for ten years only."
- 1986 Forest Plan, Allegheny
a general policy, the Forest Service will not pursue broad-scale
acquisition of subsurface rights across the Forest." -
Supervisor Kevin Elliott
Forest Service will not pursue acquisition of subsurface rights
across the Forest." -
1986 Forest Plan, Allegheny NF
way to control the development of oil and gas fields would be to
purchase the mineral rights below the national forest. Currently,
93% of the mineral rights are privately owned. The Forest Service
often claim that they can't purchase minerals because of budget
limitations. This latter claim is false. There is a huge pot in
the Land and Water Conservation Fund that can be used to purchase
mineral rights. The problem is that the Forest Service refuses to
request funds for mineral purchase. The Forest Service's policy
from 1986 is not to pursue the purchase of mineral rights. In 1999,
the US Fish and Wildlife Service recommended changing that policy
to protect endangered species. The Forest Service has refused to
even consider a change to the no-purchase policy. The ADP believes
that their failure to even consider changing their policy violates
the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act,
and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Forest Service claims that they have no jurisdiction to engage oil
and gas corporations in regard to endangered species protections.
They do, however, complete Bological Evaluations (BEs) which always
determine that there will be no significant impacts to endangered
species. Despite the arbitrary nature of their BEs, the Forest Service
does tell the oil and gas corporations that they should contact
the US Fish and Wildlife Service to find out what their obligations
under the Endangered Species Act are.
filed a FOIA request with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for
records of when oil and gas corporations have contacted them, and
how those situations were handled. We haven't received a response
yet, but conversations with the Fish and Wildlife Service confirm
that oil and gas corporations have continually failed to contact
them on this issue. The Forest Service has responded to this issue
while the Forest Service relies heavily on their 1986 Forest plan
to defend their refusal to purchase mineral rights, they continue
to ignore requirements in the same plan which mandate that management
plans be developed for all state threatened and endangered species.
In the fifteen years since the 1986 Forest Plan was adopted, no
management plans have been developed for state endangered species.
The only management plan developed, for federal threatened and endangered
species, was approved in 2000, and is currently being challenged
by ADP in federal court for its inadequacies.
Service has their own category of plants and wildlife that is uniquely
their concern. These Sensitive species are rare species which are
typically declining. Our experience has been that the Forest Service
refuses to provide strong protections for these species. When ADP
contacted the DEP to raise concens about impacts to Sensitive species
at Salmon Creek, the DEP was totally unaware of their presence and
said that they couldn't recall the Forest Service ever contacting
them with concerns about species protection.
How can I follow oil and gas drilling in the Allegheny?
Write Forest Supervisor Kevin Elliott and ask to be
added to all mailing lists for oil and gas development in the Allegheny
National Forest. While you're at it, why not tell Kevin Elliott
what you think of his drilling policies. Here is how to contact
Kevin Elliott, Supervisor
Allegheny National Forest
PO Box 847
Warren, PA 16365
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