HARRISBURG — Secondary to the issue of gas drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest itself, the question of how much public input is adequate prior to a decision is dividing state conservation officials and environmental groups.
For two years, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has been involved in private discussions with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. over a controversial plan involving drilling in the forest in parts of Bradford, Lycoming and Sullivan counties. Anadarko wants to drill on 25,000 acres where it owns subsurface mineral rights.
DCNR has said it doesn’t control the proposed-drilling area but noted it can minimize the impact of any drilling in such important natural areas as the Old Logger’s Path Trail and Rocky Run, an exceptional value stream, by negotiating a surface development management agreement with Anadarko.
Environmental groups said at a press conference last week that Gov. Tom Corbett and DNCR have legal authority through a 1983 state court decision to prevent Anadarko from using the land surface to reach its underground gas deposits on 18,870 acres of the tract.
The issue could come to a head soon if DCNR’s July 30 announcement that it will provide a 15-day public comment period on a draft agreement with Anadarko is any indication.
The agency plans to post a copy of the draft agreement and Anadarko’s development plan for the Loyalsock on its website and publish notices when the comment period starts.
A 15-day comment period is inadequate since the document could total more than 100 pages, members of Save the Loyalsock Coalition say.
They want DCNR to provide a 60-day public comment period, three public hearings, including one in the Williamsport area in proximity to the Loyalsock, along with public disclosure of the department’s environmental reviews and impact assessments.
The coalition drew comparisons between the 15-day Loyalsock comment period and existing public comment rules for proposed transfers or exchanges of state forest land. These require advance legal notices in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and local newspapers and a 30-day comment period.