Pa. Dems, environmentalists move to block drilling in state forest

    Pennsylvania State House Democrats and environmental advocates are trying to put a stop to a plan to drill for natural gas in a state forest.

    Old logging trails, streams, and a ghost town are some of the defining characteristics of Loyalsock State Forest. The land also sits on top of the Marcellus Shale formation.

    But what would otherwise be a typical tug of war between energy companies and environmentalists is getting snagged on a tangle of legal and ecological issues.

    In the meantime, the very vocal environmentalist Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, is urging the Corbett administration to block drilling in the publicly owned forest.

    “It’s a complicated legal situation,” he said.

    Anadarko Petroleum Corp. owns what lies beneath tens of thousands of acres of the forest. But it doesn’t have access to the surface — except on a smaller set of scattered parcels that also happen to be the forest’s most ecologically sensitive.

    The commonwealth began working on a special agreement to allow the energy company to access what it owns beneath while protecting the forest above.

    But a storm of criticism from environmentalists has prompted the state to increase its public outreach on the issue.

    “How much is enough? The drilling industry in Pennsylvania currently has access to over 700 thousand acres of publicly owned state forest land,” said Jeff Schmidt with the Sierra Club of Pennsylvania. “That’s over a half of the state forestland that overlays the Marcellus Shale footprint.”

    Pennsylvania officials will hold an online information session this week about the proposed drilling and are promising another public meeting sometime in the future. Several weeks ago, a controversial closed-door meeting took place with selected stakeholders.

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