The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

August 25, 2012

Group fights state to halt glen drilling

Rock Run in Lycoming County is one of those crazy-beautiful spots that define Pennsylvania outdoors — clear, natural water pools formed inside giant rock look like nature’s idea of a soaking tub.

There are scenic waterfalls inside a lush forest and a hiking trail that’s not for the faint of heart or body, but will reward whoever treks it with memorable natural sights.

The state’s own Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has called Rock Run “a fragile beauty.”

So Valley environmentalists wonder how this place, which state government itself values, can be open for gas drilling.

“This is where the governor has a chance to do the right thing,” said Ralph Kisberg, board president of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, a Williamsport-based group that rallies against the natural gas industry.

Lycoming County records show that Anadarko Petroleum Corp., one of the most prominent Marcellus Shale drillers, bought a 50 percent share of the mineral rights under Loyalsock State Forest. The checkerboard layout of the property finds Anadarko with shares south and east of Rock Run, not directly on top of it.

Pennsylvania bought the forest land in 1933 but did not acquire the mineral rights Anadarko now owns. But the state did acquire other mineral rights, Kisberg said, in other adjacent rectangular blocks surrounding or touching what Anadarko has.

This puts the state in a unique position: as owner of the surface rights, DCNR would have to grant some kind of access to Anadarko and the owners of the other half of those subsurface rights before Anadarko could develop the land for drilling.

It’s also believed that the deed to the property, some 20,000 acres that had been privately owned, limited the surface rights access for 50 years. That stipulation has long expired, but it gives DCNR the option to slow, if not fully stop, natural gas development in the Rock Run region.

And that is what Kisberg and the others want to see. They plan a rally 1:30 p.m. Sept. 8 at a fire hall in Ralston, and will lead the gathering into the Loyalsock State Forest to see the area to understand what is at stake.

Taking this stand to spare Rock Run and its surroundings preserves it for future generations, but also makes a moral point, environmentalists say.

“At one point do you say enough?” said Rev. Leah Shade, pastor of the United in Christ Lutheran Church in West Milton. “At what point do you say money and profit isn’t as important as keeping our natural beauty and resources?”

The administration of Gov. Tom Corbett has cooperated more with the drilling industry. One of the governor’s first moves in office was to lift former Gov. Ed Rendell’s moratorium on drilling in state forest land.

But Corbett lately has seen defeats on the drilling front. In July, a state appellate court struck down provisions in Act 13, a law regulating the natural gas industry, that took zoning out of the hands of local municipalities. The court ruled 4-3 that the state can make municipalities allow drilling where local zoning rules would prohibit it.

The administration has filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court, which could hear the case in October.

Corbett also recently ordered the Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates the natural gas industry, “to process environmentally protective applications as expeditiously as possible” at drilling sites. This too has come under criticism, namely from PennFuture, a watchdog group for the environment, which fears speed will trump safety.

Nevertheless, something besides pro and con gas drilling may trump all the arguments, and that is the current natural gas glut. Natural gas prices reached an all-time low in July of $2.74 per million BTUs, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, which keeps this data.

Pennsylvania now has more natural gas in stock than it knows what to do with, prompting some drillers to slow or stop all together for a while.

Anadarko is among them. In July, the company reported a net loss during the second quarter owing to low natural gas prices that led it to record a $978 million write-down, the Houston Chronicle reported. Anadarko said the low natural gas prices slammed its coal bed methane properties.

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