Over the past two and a half years, seven lawsuits have been filed against the Forest Service regarding its regulation (or lack thereof) of oil and gas drilling on the Allegheny National Forest. The oil and gas industry filed six of those lawsuits claiming the Forest Service has no authority to protect Pennsylvania’s only national forest from the damaging impacts of oil and gas drilling. The other lawsuit, filed by Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, Allegheny Defense Project, and Sierra Club, cited the Forest Service’s failure to comply with federal environmental regulations requiring detailed environmental analysis and public participation before approving oil and gas drilling projects.
In April 2009, the Forest Service settled with FSEEE, ADP, and Sierra Club. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, approximately 585 oil and gas wells were permitted to be drilled without additional environmental review but all future proposed oil and gas wells would have to undergo environmental analysis and public participation requirements pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Before the ink had dried on the settlement agreement, however, the oil and gas industry, led by Minard Run Oil Co., filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the settlement agreement and filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. Unfortunately, in December 2009, a federal judge in Erie granted the preliminary injunction, which means the settlement agreement cannot be enforced while the merits of the industry’s lawsuit are argued. All the parties to the settlement agreement (the Forest Service, FSEEE, ADP and Sierra Club) are appealing the judge’s order granting the preliminary injunction to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Briefing began this summer.
Another lawsuit filed by Duhring Resources has been put on hold until the Minard Run lawsuit is fully resolved. ADP intervened in that lawsuit and was successful in getting several of Duhring’s claims dismissed before the court stayed the proceedings.
Two other lawsuits, filed by Catalyst Energy and Seneca Resources, are also moving forward. Both ADP and the Sierra Club have intervened in these cases as well to defend the Forest Service’s authority to regulate oil and gas drilling. The administrative record in the Catalyst Energy case has just been filed and summary judgment is pending in the Seneca Resources case.
The two final cases, filed by Papco and the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association (POGAM), are both at the summary judgment stage. There are no intervenors in these cases so they are just between the oil and gas industry and the Forest Service.