The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) outlined a number of proposals for what will be classified as a surface disturbance in state forests and parks during a meeting of its natural gas advisory committee on Wednesday.
DCNR discussed those details for the first time since Republican Gov. Tom Corbett issued an executive order in May that lifted a four-year ban on new subsurface oil and gas leases in state forests and parks (see Shale Daily, May 23). The order still bars surface operations. Enacted by his Democratic predecessor Gov. Ed Rendell (see Shale Daily, Oct. 27, 2010), Corbett's move to lift the ban and sign a state budget that calls for new leases to generate $95 million in revenue has become increasingly controversial.
Since the beginning of this year, when Corbett first announced his intent to lift the ban, DCNR and the administration have been working on new rules to limit surface operations and define disturbances on state-owned land (see Shale Daily, April 24). The advisory committee issued a draft document on Wednesday that said the expansion or construction of roads and the installation of surface equipment, such as pipelines and compressor stations, would not be allowed under leases issued in state forests.
The draft also said short-term disruptions, such as seismic surveys, would be allowed as long as the effects of such activities can remediated. The state also said it would charge $3,000 per acre and require 18% in royalties.
DCNR is moving forward with its plans despite a pending lawsuit that will bar it from issuing new leases until a ruling can be made this fall. Earlier this month, the state negotiated a settlement with the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation to put new leases on hold until the group's lawsuit challenging the way the state uses revenue from forest drilling is resolved (see Shale Daily, July 21).
DCNR also said Wednesday that it would seek public comment on a draft development agreement that it is currently working to finalize with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Southwestern Energy Co. for a 25,000-acre tract of land in the Loyalsock State Forest. Mineral rights in the area, known as the Clarence Moore Lands in Lycoming County, are not owned by the state but rather by the two companies, which have requested access to extract natural gas.
"For about a year now, DCNR has been meeting with a small group of stakeholders to inform them of the progress of talks between Anadarko and Southwestern Energy Co.," said DCNR Secretary Ellen Ferretti in a statement released after the committee meeting. "From previous public input we understand that there is a unique interest in this particular tract of land and that we needed a much broader way to communicate with the public."
Members of the public and environmental groups have continued to express outrage over those meetings, with some telling NGI's Shale Daily last week that the DCNR's private discussions with the companies were "bizarre and offensive to the public interest" (see Shale Daily, July 28)
DCNR uses development agreements to manage oil and gas activity on state forest lands where it does not own the subsurface rights. The Moore lands have been controversial for some time now, with the mineral rights there bequeathed to Anadarko and Southwestern in 1997 after a prolonged legal battle (see Shale Daily, April 23, 2013; April 1, 2013). Ferretti said DCNR will allow 15 days for public comment on the draft development plan, which would then be reviewed and considered before a final agreement is reached.
DCNR highlighted a number of its priorities for development on the Moore lands, including impacts on trail users, the reduction of fragmentation from pipelines and roads, and minimizing activity in wetland areas, or habitats where endangered species are known to frequent. DCNR said it would notify the public when the comment period is scheduled.