The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) plans to hold an invitation-only meeting on Thursday to discuss a request by two energy companies to access their mineral rights under the Loyalsock State Forest.

Meanwhile, a key legislator in the state General Assembly has introduced a bill calling for a moratorium on leasing lands owned and managed by the DCNR for oil and natural gas development.

DCNR spokeswoman Christina Novak told NGI’s Shale Daily that about 30 invitations went to local stakeholders, including county commissioners, planners and municipal officials. She said environmental groups, including the National Audubon Society and the Responsible Drilling Alliance, were also invited.

“We wanted to have a conversation with folks, so we limited the size of the group so that we could actually have a quality conversation,” Novak said Thursday. “That was our intent.”

At issue are requests by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Southwestern Energy Co. to access the minerals rights they own under the Clarence Moore tracts, which is land totaling 25,621 acres that lie within the state forest. The tracts were at the center of a legal dispute that started in the early 1980s and ended with in 1999 with a ruling in the case Estate of Clarence Moore and Pennlyco Ltd. v. Pennsylvania and DCNR by the Pennsylvania Board of Claims.

“It was a legal decision that determined Clarence Moore owned all of the subsurface, but not necessarily all the surface,” Novak said. “The board said the entire surface is owned by the Commonwealth, but there are some areas where the board said [Moore] could have access.”

Moore died in 1997. Anadarko and Southwestern each acquired a 50% interest in Moore’s mineral rights from members of his estate. Records from the legal battle show the acreage was colored yellow and blue on maps offered at trial. The areas were subsequently coined as the “yellow tract” and the “blue tract.”

The board ruled that Moore did not have access rights to the 18,780-acre yellow tract, but did have access rights to the 6,841-acre blue tract. Those rights have since been bequeathed to Anadarko and Southwestern.

“We have been talking with [Anadarko and Southwestern] since then about access, which is not uncommon,” Novak said. “It’s something that we do regularly with folks where we don’t own the mineral rights. We’re going to share information about all of these various legal decisions, and the value and importance of these lands [at the Thursday meeting].”

The Loyalsock State Forest comprises 114,494 acres in Bradford, Lycoming and Sullivan counties.

About 1.5 million acres of the 2.2 million-acre state forest system overlie the Marcellus, with 700,000 acres currently leased for drilling. Shortly before leaving office, then-Gov. Ed Rendell placed a moratorium on leasing the remaining 800,000 acres (see Shale Daily, Oct. 27, 2010). His successor, Gov. Tom Corbett, supports expanding more forested areas to leasing, but that hasn’t happened yet for several reasons, including continuing low natural gas prices (see Shale Daily, March 7, 2012; Nov. 15, 2010).

On March 8, Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Havertown) introduced a bill, HB 950, which calls for a moratorium on leasing more DCNR land for oil and gas drilling. The bill was subsequently referred to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, which Vitali serves on as the Democratic chairman.

“Pennsylvania has already made about half of its state forestland available for drilling,” Vitali said. “The remaining 800,000 acres have old growth forests, fragile ecosystems, and habitats for rare and endangered species. We need to protect this land for future generations.”