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Archive for June, 2013

Drilling In Loyalsock Beset By Protest

Glenn Nelson

 

Lycoming County, Pa: Following the Loyalsock Trail, in the midst of a potent, mid-summer heat wave, it is refreshing to at last come upon the creek for which the trail is named…. Cascading through freestone, cold even in July, it runs through the 114,494 rolling, green acres of Loyalsock State Forest, from Wyoming County to Montoursville, where it flows into the West Branch of the Susquehanna. Until recently (2005) the forest was known as Wyoming State Forest. Spanning across the northern tier of the Kittatiny Mountains, so named by the Lene Lenape natives for its “endless” expanse of green rolling hills. Loyalsock is a pristine piece of what Pennsylvania once was…. That is, before industry… before logging, before coal mining, before natural gas.

Loyalsock was bought from the Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company in the early 1930’s, meaning that much of the park had been clear cut at one point. Considering that fact, 80 years has made a world of difference. Much of the biodiversity has recovered, and where once there were sawmills and railroads, there now stands much of the mixed hardwood forest that initially covered the endless mountains. You can still see places where there were logging roads covered in corduroy, and open fields of brier patches still in successional stages. But the fact that there is a forest here, that is something remarkable.

By all accounts, Loyalsock is a success story for the second-hand wilderness movement. After nearly a century of extraction, from coal and lumber, to oil and natural gas, forest cover in the northeast, and especially Pennsylvania had been diminished by a staggering margin. But, while initially taken for granted, forests like Loyalsock have made a comeback. Often preserved for watershed protection or economic purposes, more than wilderness ethics or aesthetics, 2.2 million acres of forest have been protected in Pennsylvania, and Loyalsock is amongst the larger and more significant. Yet, despite the forest’s second-hand success, Loyalsock is again under threat, this time from controversial hydrolic fracturing, or “fracking.” As State Impact reports, the forest “is now the site of a tense three-way dance among energy companies, environmentalists and state regulators over whether, where and how drilling should be allowed in this state forest,” (Lovers of Pa.’s Loyalsock Forest Fight to Limit Drilling There).

In Pennsylvania natural gas production on the Marcellus Shale has expanded by 678 percent, between 2005 and 2011 (http://www.sbecouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/BenefitsNGPennSummary.pdf). According to State Impact, there are now 8,982 operating wells in Pennsylvania, under 74 operators, with 3,025 regulatory violations recorded (http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/drilling/). There are already 846 wells operating in Lycoming County and 211 in Wyoming County, the counties where Loyalsock resides.

 

Many environmentalists in the state see the planned drilling as a failure of long-term memory. As the blog shaleshockmedia.org argues, “The lumber companies did not pay for reforestation, the lumber companies were not held responsible nor called to account. Pennsylvanians paid for it. Now it is under threat of devastation once again. This time by the natural gas industry, and the same old set of circumstances – lack of meaningful and enforceable regulation, lack of foresight, and blindness due to all that shiny gold.”

Anti-fracking activists were further outraged when the DCNR agreed to hold a “local stakeholders meeting, regarding mineral extraction issues in the Loyalsock State Forest,” by invitation only (http://blog.shaleshockmedia.org/2013/04/02/tearing-down-trees-putting-up-gas-rigs/yaw-invite/). Again, shaleshockmedia.org notes, “Although the state forest is owned by each and every Pennsylvanian, we are not invited.”

 

 

The situation in Loyalsock is precarious, from a legal standpoint. While the state owns the surface rights, the mineral rights are owned by Anadarko Petroleum. The rights were transferred to Anadarko and Southwestern Energy Company, from the original landowner, the Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company. Anadarko essentially owns the natural gas lying beneath 25,000 acres in the Loyalsock, much of which are some of the most prized sections of the park. Sections such as Rock Run and The Old Logger’s Path would be effected by Anadarko’s plan to open the forest to drilling. However, as enviropoliticsblog.blogspot.com reports, “the state maintains “above average” surface rights on about 18,000 of those acres, meaning Anadarko has to negotiate with DCNR for access to drill.” So far, Anadarko has offered $15 million, while the DCNR countered with an offer of $22 million. A deal has yet to have been struck between the two parties (http://enviropoliticsblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/focus-of-fracking-fight-shifts-to.html#.UcPv8c4Uw9c).

Responding to increased pressure, the DCNR finally agreed to a public meeting, scheduled for June 3, 2013. During the meeting, the DCNR admitted that the project would certainly be impactful. The plan includes 26 well pads, 4 compressor stations, 34 miles of new pipeline, and 15 miles of new roads per well pad. The DCNR promised no open waste impoundments, but did not specify whether gas flaring would be allowed.

Over 400 people packed the hearing in Lycoming County. Testimony was heated, and lasted for several hours. During the hearing, not one citizen spoke in favor of drilling. Niether Anadarko, nor any other natural gas industry representatives were present at the meeting.

 

The stakes are high in Loyalsock. The natural gas industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the Pennsylvanian economy. Between 2005 and 2010 employment in the oil and gas sector grew by 80.8 percent. With LNG exports expected to increase, as more infrastructure comes online, the industry is only expected to grow. However, Pennsylvania does not tax the industry, and revenue for the state only comes from the one time, per well, Impact Fee and from regulatory violations. Furthermore, It is said that nearly 30 percent of Pennsylvania’s economy is based its forests (http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_005564.pdf). Much of that comes from outdoor recreation. With tourism in the state accounting for 6.4 percent of all employment in the state, it begs a question of economic fundamentals. Can Pennsylvania have it both ways?

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