March 1, 2010
By Cathy Pedler, Forest Watch Coordinator
This is a critical time for Pennsylvania. The Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania State Forests, and communities in general are under siege by oil and gas drilling. The deep well drilling for Marcellus Shale gas across Pennsylvania is the greatest land-use threat to the surface waters and aquifers of our commonwealth. Last year Pennsylvania legislators opened up thousands of acres of State Forest land to oil and gas driling in order to balance the state’s budget. The effect next year’s budget negotiations will have on state lands will potentially be much worse if we do not engage and activate citizens to protect their Public Lands, and the communities in which they live.
The situation on the Allegheny National Forest is in a crisis state. The ANF has 12,000 to 15,000 active shallow oil and gas wells including associated pump jacks, tank batteries, equipment storage sites, generator and compressor stations, brine pits, water impoundments, water transport lines and pumps, gas and oil pipe lines, and 2,236 miles of OGD roads on top of 1,512 miles of system roads. Three Marcellus Shale gas operations are already active on private and state land inholdings within the ANF proclamation boundary, with the first proposals for operations on ANF lands likely to begin operation this year. The massive imprints of these drilling operations—15 to 20 acres per site, without taking into account the underground disturbance from hydraulic fracturing with horizontal wells radiating out one mile in multiple directions from the bore hole—will dwarf the shallow well developments that have dominated the landscape to date. Each well uses between 5 and 10 million gallons of fresh water, which oil and gas operators seize from surface streams or aquifers. This drilling and fracking water is then polluted with industry chemical additives (some carcinogenic) and are also contaminated with high concentrations of sodium, chloride, bromide, arsenic, barium, other heavy metals, and radionuclides. There are currently no facilities in Pennsylvania that can adequately remove these pollutants. DEP file reviews show that inadequately treated water is dumped into the Allegheny River at Warren.
Meanwhile there is a renewed drive to increase the timber harvest on the ANF (under the guise of stewardship contracting), even as the U.S. Forest Service’s 2007 Forest Plan Supplemental EIS for oil and gas drilling shows species decline and water quality degredation in every alternative developed.
The challenge to unregulated oil and gas drilling last year was unprecedented. Allegheny Defense Project and Sierra Club joined forces in litigation to compell the U.S. Forest Service to protect Pennsylvania’s only National Forest. However, the industry is fighting back with all of its legislative and monetary influence.
The initial litigation in which ADP became involved, intervention in Duhring Resources (POGAM and AFA, Plaintiff-Intervenors) v. U.S. Forest Service, has been critical in preventing a possible collusive settlement between Duhring Resources and the Forest Service, sanctioned by federal court, that would further jeopardize the Allegheny. ADP’s intervention has proven to be important because the Forest Service has not vigorously defended itself in court. Since this initial lawsuit, ADP and Sierra club have joined forces in three efforts as co-plaintiffs, co-defendants, and defendant-intervenors.
Our litigation efforts on the ANF are at a crucial stage. In late 2008 we filed Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, Allegheny Defense Project, Sierra Club v. U.S. Forest Service (POGAM and AFA - Defendant-Intervenors), which resulted in a settlement agreement and the Forest Service initiating an environmental analysis of the impacts of oil and gas drilling on the ANF. However, a recent federal court decision in Minard Run Oil Company, POGAM v. U.S. Forest Service, Attorney General Eric Holder, FSEEE, ADP, and Sierra Club enjoined the settlement agreement. ADP, Sierra Club, and FSEEE have filed a notice of appeal with the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to have the settlement agreement reinstated.
ADP and Sierra Club have also jointly intervened as defendant-intervenors in Catalyst Energy v. U.S. Forest Service; and in Seneca Resources v. U.S. Forest Service. These cases address the authority of the U.S. Forest Service in regulating surface disturbance during private oil and gas drilling on National Forest Land.
On March 9, 2010, 10am there will be oral arguments in the Erie Federal Courthouse (courtroom C) regarding the Forest Service's Motion for Reconsideration of the decision in Minard Run Oil Company, POGAM, AFA and Warren County v. U.S. Forest Service.