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

April 5, 2002

For Immediate Release
Contact: Jim Kleissler or Ryan Talbott, (814) 223-4996

Pennsylvania Plans to Auction off Half a Million Acres of State Forest and Park Lands for Oil and Gas Drilling

Conservationists Protest the Lack of Public Input, Environmental Analysis

On March 28, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) announced plans to open 499,858 acres of state forest and state park lands to oil and gas drilling via a public auction in Harrisburg on May 8 and 9.

The proposal would divide the half-million acres of leases into 141 tracts ranging from a 549 acre tract in Forbes State Forest south of Pittsburgh to a 47,348 acre tract of state forest land in Cameron, Clinton, and Potter Counties. Proposed drilling will impact the Forbes, Rothrock, Sproul, Tiadaghton, Elk, Susquehannock, and Tioga State Forests. The drilling is proposed for Fayette, Cameron, Lycoming, Tioga, Potter, Clinton, and Huntingdon Counties.

Drilling will be allowed under numerous State Parks, Wild Areas, and Natural Areas, although drilling rigs and roads will be kept to state forest lands adjacent to these areas. Leases will require that lease owners drill for oil and gas or lose control of the lease. Drilling will occur under the Algerine, Trough Creek, Asaph, and Hammersley Wild Areas, the Bucktail State Park, Black Ash Swamp, Reynolds Spring, Algerine Swamp, Forest H. Dutlinger, and Pine Creek Gorge (the "Pennsylvania Grand Canyon") Natural Areas, and Colton Point, Leonard Harrison, Trough Creek, Lyman Run, Ole Bull, and Sizerville State Parks, and the village of Arnot (Tioga County), although surface occupancy will be limited.

The only notice was a legal advertisement for bids from oil and gas corporations that was placed in some local newspapers. The DCNR did not solicit any public input and did not prepare an environmental analysis regarding the proposed sell-off of oil and gas rights.

"This auctioning off of Pennsylvania's public resources takes secret energy dealings on public lands to a new level," said Jim Kleissler, Forest Watch Director with the Allegheny Defense Project, a Clarion based forest protection group. "This stands to be the single largest sell off of our public resources to private energy corporations in Pennsylvania and no one in the state administration thought to involve the public or to prepare an environmental impact statement."

"The state is planning to sell off in two days the drilling rights to an area the size of the Allegheny National Forest," said Bill Belitskus, a Kane, PA, citizen who has fought oil and gas development near his home. "In the national forest we have a catastrophic crisis with oil and gas drilling which the U.S. Forest Service claims they can not control because private corporate interests control the drilling rights there. It is rare in this state for the public to have control over any of these resources, but here we are giving up control over that which we do own."

The drive behind this enormous auction of the state's oil and gas reserves is the money that can be made tapping the Trenton-Black River -- deep Ordovician formations reaching from New York into West Virginia and Kentucky. The Trenton-Black River formations are buried as much as 14,000 feet below the surface, where the gas will be extracted under intense pressure and high water flow. Large well sites covering 3 to 5 acres each will be required for the drilling operations, which in total will clearcut up to 4,000 acres of forest for well pads and require the construction of hundreds of miles of roads and pipelines.

"These Trenton-Black River formations are very deep and require a lot of pressure which just increases the risks to the environment and local communities," explained Ryan Talbott, Forest Watch Coordinator for the ADP. "Besides the incredible noise and light pollution caused by these wells, the drilling itself results in the production of heavy metals and potential ground water contamination. The gas from these sites is under such intense pressure that these well sites often result in the need for huge flare-offs, which pose an obvious safety risk."

Conservation groups raised serious concerns about the volatility of these well sites. According to reports, the first Trenton-Black River well ever drilled was in 1936 and the drilling rig was burned to the ground. A recent environmental impact statement completed for drilling of Trenton-Black River well sites in New York found that environmental risks included blowout potential, soil compaction, contamination, erosion and loss, groundwater contamination and disturbance, sedimentation of streams, noise and light pollution, forest fragmentation, and numerous other impacts. The New York environmental impact statement led to a decision not to tap into the Trenton-Black River under the Finger Lakes National Forest.

The conservation group ADP pointed out that this drilling plan contradicts statements made by the DCNR just recently that restoring Pennsylvania’s native bio-diversity is their highest priority. Conservationists also pointed out that while the DCNR claims that state forests are certified as being well managed, the failure to provide for public comment contradicts a commitment that the DCNR entered with certification outfits to build public involvement into the process of state forest decision making.

"At a time when the Pennsylvania legislature is considering legislation to increase accountability of state government, it is striking that the state would secretly sell off our natural resources without first involving public review and comment," said Rachel Martin, Outreach Director for the ADP. "Selling off a half-million acres of drilling rights in one fell swoop contradicts the very foundation of conservation which requires that you not exhaust all of your natural resources at one time."

"With the ongoing public outcry over the Bush Administration's secretive corporate energy plan we expected better from Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources John Oliver," said Martin.

Copies of the auction announcement can be obtained from http://www.assetauctions.freemarkets.com

For maps of the sites contact the DCNR at (717) 783-7940.

Letters may be directed to John Oliver, Secretary of the DCNR, 7th Floor, Rachel Carson State Office Bldg., PO Box 8767, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8767, (717) 772-9084

 

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