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PA Regulators, Producers Discussed Forest Drilling But No Details Made Public

Two companies interested in drilling for natural gas in the Loyalsock State Forest met recently with officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), but to the chagrin of environmentalists the agency did not receive -- and may not have asked for -- copies of the materials shown for subsequent redistribution to the public.

Mary Wolf, spokeswoman for Anadarko Petroleum Corp., confirmed to NGI's Shale Daily that representatives from Anadarko and Southwestern Energy Co. met earlier this summer with designees of DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti in Harrisburg to discuss possible drilling in the forest, which comprises 114,494 acres in Bradford, Lycoming and Sullivan counties.

At issue are 25,621 acres under the forest -- also known as the Clarence Moore tracts -- where Anadarko and Southwestern own the mineral rights. The tracts were at the center of a legal dispute that began in the early 1980s and ended in 1999 with a ruling by the Pennsylvania Board of Claims, which ruled that Moore had the right to access 6,841 acres (Estate of Clarence Moore and Pennlyco Ltd. v. Pennsylvania and DCNR). Those rights were bequeathed to Anadarko and Southwestern after Moore died in 1997.

Joanne Kilgour, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club, told NGI's Shale Daily that her group and others involved with the Save the Loyalsock Coalition first learned about DCNR's meeting with Anadarko and Southwestern during a conference call with the agency on July 8.

"We had a phone call with DCNR staff, and they shared with us that they had had a recent meeting with Anadarko and Southwestern where they were shown a PowerPoint [presentation] but that they did not receive a copy of that and therefore couldn't share it with us," Kilgour said Friday. "Anadarko showed maps to DCNR staff at the district office, and they also did not have copies of those to share with us."

Kilgour said it was unclear if DCNR approached the companies and requested the information, or if the companies had voluntarily offered the information to the DCNR.

"As part of the ongoing relationship between DCNR and the companies as they move forward, they do have periodic meetings and updates," Kilgour said. "My understanding is that this was one of those [meetings], in a step toward making a final agreement."

Wolf said she didn't know what materials were presented to DCNR at the meeting because she wasn't there. She added it would be "pure speculation" to say there would be additional meetings between the two sides, but she also indicated that there would indeed be more of them.

"This is a continuation of the overall discussions that have occurred with the companies and DCNR over the last 10 months or so on how to achieve an appropriate development plan and surface use agreement from DCNR," Wolf said. "It's a work in progress. That would indicate that there would be more meetings and conversations until there's an approved development plan and surface use agreement."

Kilgour said it appeared DCNR staff had not requested copies of the materials they were shown by Anadarko and Southwestern. "To our knowledge, they did not request a copy," she said. "We would have thought that that would be something that would be clear to them to do. If someone comes to my office and gives me a presentation, I generally request a copy."

In a letter to DCNR’s Daniel Devlin,deputy secretary for parks and forests, Kilgour and PennFuture attorney Mark Szybist called the companies' actions "bizarre and offensive to the public interest." The letter was dated July 14.

"One of the purposes of our follow-up letter was to make it explicit that in future meetings, we hope that they would request a copy with the intent to make that [copy] public and to share it with us," Kilgour said. "We want to be kept up to date on what the plans are moving forward and to provide the valuable feedback that we have as a public stakeholder.

"We have asked for a commitment from DCNR that the development plan and the surface disturbance management agreement become public before they are considered final. DCNR has not yet made a commitment to do that, and that is something that we continue to push on. We hope we can get a commitment from them before the process gets too much further along."

Last year, DCNR officials held a controversial, invitation-only meeting with various stakeholders, including some environmental groups, to discuss possible drilling in the forest. The meeting started a kerfuffle that eventually led DCNR to hold an online public forum on the matter (see Shale DailyApril 23, 2013April 1, 2013). But since those meetings the issue has been largely dormant.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett tapped Ferretti to lead DCNR after the governor fired Richard Allan for reportedly using offensive language in email messages to disparage another state government employee (see Shale DailySept. 24, 2013June 18, 2013). Ferretti was serving as deputy secretary for the DCNR's parks and forestry division at the time of Allan's ouster.

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