Allegheny Defense Project ...working for the protection of the natural heritage of the Alleghenies...

Hellbender Journal Summer/Fall 2001

Oil and Gas Exploitation in the Allegheny

By Jim Kleissler

Oil and Gas Corporations Target Salmon Creek

Salmon 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.

Over the 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.

Since 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 permits.

PGE's development 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 to us"

- PGE representative September 27, 2001

A PGE oil well near Salmon Creek. Photo by Rachel Martin

PGE claims 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.

Both the 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.

Salmon 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 laws.

You can 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 rgleeson@state.pa.us

Separating Facts from Fiction: The Oil and Gas Management Story

The Forest 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.

Objecting to Oil and Gas Wells

"Land 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.

In fact, 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.

This summer, 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.

When Kevin 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.

The Forest Plan

"The guidance we follow for oil and gas development of private mineral rights are clearly outlined in the [1986] Forest Plan." - Supervisor Kevin Elliott, Sept. 27, 2001

"The Plan covers management actions for ten years only." - 1986 Forest Plan, Allegheny NF

Purchasing Mineral Rights

"As a general policy, the Forest Service will not pursue broad-scale acquisition of subsurface rights across the Forest." - Supervisor Kevin Elliott

"The Forest Service will not pursue acquisition of subsurface rights across the Forest." - 1986 Forest Plan, Allegheny NF

The easiest 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.

Endangered Species

The U.S. 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.

So, ADP 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 with disinterest.

Interestingly, 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.

Sensitive Species

The Forest 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 him:

Kevin Elliott, Supervisor

Allegheny National Forest

PO Box 847

Warren, PA 16365

(814) 723-5150

kbelliott@fs.fed.us

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