April 5, 2002
For Immediate Release
Contact: Jim Kleissler or Ryan Talbott, (814) 223-4996
Plans to Auction off Half a Million Acres of State Forest and Park
Lands for Oil and Gas Drilling
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
"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
"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
Copies of the auction announcement can be obtained
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