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Controversy in the Loyalsock

Controversy in the Loyalsock

By Mark Szybist, Staff Attorney, PennFuture

What are the Clarence Moore Lands?

The Clarence Moore lands are 25,621 acres of “split estate” lands in the Loyalsock State Forest where the surface rights are owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the oil and gas rights are owned by two private parties – an affiliate of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (Anadarko) and a private company called International Development Corporation (IDC). The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) calls this acreage the “Clarence Moore lands,” after an individual who once owned the area’s oil and gas interests.

What is the controversy over the Clarence Moore lands?

The Clarence Moore lands have become controversial because Anadarko wants to drill gas wells on them (and build compressor stations, water impoundments, pipelines, and new roads). Because of the ecological and recreational sensitivity of the Clarence Moore lands, PA’s conservation community (and much of the general public) wants the DCNR to use its substantial powers to minimize surface activities, if not prevent them altogether.

In general, when a “split estate” exists in PA, the party that owns or controls the oil and gas estate has an implied right to use the surface that it does not own in order to extract oil and gas. The Clarence Moore lands present an exception to this rule. Due to a provision in the Commonwealth’s deed, the DCNR has the power to deny Anadarko access to 18,870 acres of the Clarence Moore lands – almost 75%. To obtain access, Anadarko needs a right-of-way from the DCNR. Conservationists are arguing that given this power, the DCNR has leverage to protect all of the Clarence Moore lands – including the 6,841 acres where Anadarko appears to have traditional “split estate” surface rights.

In March 2012 Anadarko submitted to the DCNR a development plan for the Clarence Moore lands. For almost a year, a coalition of conservation, recreation, fishing and hunting organizations (and thousands of private citizens) have been pressing the DCNR to conduct a public input process on the Clarence Moore lands before making any agreement with Anadarko. The coalition wants the DCNR to make public its environmental impact analyses, allow public comment on all development and non-development alternatives, and protect the Clarence Moore lands for future generations of Pennsylvania citizens. In April 2013 the DCNR conducted an invitation-only meeting about the Clarence Moore lands for “local stakeholders,” followed by a webinar in collaboration with the Penn State Extension of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. The DCNR announced on May 22, 2013 that it would hold a public meeting in Williamsport on June 3rd.

Why are the Clarence Moore lands so important?

The Clarence Moore lands are a wealth of ecological and recreational resources. They include the Old Loggers Path (OLP), an acclaimed 27-mile hiking trail that follows former logging trails and opens onto stunning vistas. According to DCNR documents, the OLP “will be taking the brunt of development [from Anadarko’s activities].”

The Clarence Moore lands include most of the watershed of Rock Run, an Exceptional Value (EV) stream widely hailed as the most beautiful stream in Pennsylvania. The headwaters of Rock Run and Pleasant Stream, another EV stream, emerge from ridge-top wetlands that provide habitat for several threatened or endangered plant and animal species.

The Clarence Moore lands provide habitat for numerous plant and animal species that Pennsylvania has classified as threatened, rare, or at risk (or determined to be candidates for these classifications). Among these species (to name just a few): the timber rattlesnake, northern water shrew, creeping snowberry, northern bulrush, northern goshawk, and yellow-bellied flycatcher. The Clarence Moore lands have been designated an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. (See p. 82 of this PDF).

Finally, the Clarence Moore lands are one of only a few large public land areas in north-central PA that have not been opened to gas development, and still contain relatively unfragmented forests.  The DCNR has already leased almost 21,000 other acres of Loyalsock (the forest is around 114,000 acres in all), and has also leased much of the Tiadaghton State Forest to the west and the Tioga State Forest to the north.

FracTracker map of Clarence Moore Lands and Activity

The map above shows the Clarence Moore lands as yellow and blue areas within the Loyalsock State Forest. In the yellow areas, the DCNR has exclusive control of the surface. In the blue areas, Anadarko has the right to use the surface to extract oil and gas. The locations of the yellow and blue Clarence Moore areas are based on documents obtained by PennFuture through the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law (RTKL) and on maps that the DCNR presented at the April 2013 webinar noted above.

The map also shows the oil and gas wells, pipelines, roads, compressor stations, and impoundments that conservationists believe Anadarko has proposed to build in the Clarence Moore lands. The locations of this infrastructure are based on the RTKL documents and on hikers’ observations of survey flags within the Loyalsock State Forest.


Questions and comments about this issue or the June 3rd public meeting can be directed to Mark Szybist: Szybist@pennfuture.org.

Logbook FracTracker Postcard Front

Winter Summary of the Trail Logbook Project

As the forests beckon us to return to their paths now that winter has subsided (hopefully), let’s take a look at the reports we received over the winter for our Trail Logbook Project.

Impacts Summary

Reports came from several counties, but the majority of complaints focused on the impacts of drilling in Loyalsock State Forest.

Counties:

  • Clinton
  • Centre
  • Lycoming
  • Warren
  • Sullivan

Suspected Causes:

  • Existing gas line
  • Shallow gas wells
  • Truck traffic
  • Pipeline construction
  • Drilling/hydraulic fracturing
  • Impoundment
  • Seismic Testing

Main Trails Affected:

  • Loyalsock State Forest trails
  • Eddy Lick Trail Loop
  • Minister Creek Trail

Impacts Reported (in descending order according to frequency):

  • Unpleasant odors
  • Confrontation with gas company employees, contractors, security personnel
  • Noise impacts
  • Potential degradation/contamination of a stream, spring, lake, or pond, brine in the water at ANF pump
  • Visual impacts (degradation of scenery)

Logbook Quotes

Drilling has largely overtaken this tract of Loyalsock State Forest. I would say that drilling has completely eclipsed the recreational aspect of the tract. Indeed, the tract seems to have been transformed into an industrial forest. I came here for hiking and nature photography, but I felt as though I were a guest on Seneca-owned land, not a visitor to public land paid for by the citizens of Pennsylvania. I noticed no other visitors in the tract, too; everyone I saw was a Seneca employee.   The scenic vista on Bodine Mountain Road (noted on the Loyalsock State Forest map) was less than scenic when I visited; many drilling pads (some near, some far) were seen. The noise from trucks and compressors also diminished the recreational aspect. I won’t return here until most of the drilling ends.

This stream, Minister Creek, is a “Safe” zone for Brook Trout. It now has areas of bubbles and a thin oil sheen on its surface in addition to the Brine taste at the pump.

While setting up campsite just off the Loyalsock Trail at the old CCC Camp on Sandstone Lane, I heard an approaching Crew Truck with a loudspeaker blasting radio conversation with supervisors.  As the Lane had been damaged in recent storms, they tried to drive thru a meadow and right thru my Campsite.  There was no opening in the trees wide enough to pass and I told them so.  They went back to the lane and bored thru the rutted, flood-gouged lane past my camp…

Recommendations from Citizen Reports

Where roads are narrow, especially in forested areas, there are often checkpoints set up by the operators in order to control two-way traffic. Often signs are not sufficiently visible/present/clear, so motorists may not realize the new rules. In Loyalsock State Forest, this has been an issue. As such, below are recreationalists’ recommendations regarding ways to reduce or avoid the issues currently arising from gas operations in this and other public areas:

  • Seneca Resources Corp. and the DCNR should work together to better educate visitors on the need to stop at every checkpoint in this tract of Loyalsock State Forest (or in any forested area that is frequented by recreationalists).
  • At each of the two entrances (Hagerman Run Road and Grays Run Road) to the tract from Pennsylvania Route 14, post a large, prominent sign about the need to stop at every checkpoint for two-way traffic control;
  • Post clearly visible signs at every checkpoint; and
  • On the DCNR Web site in the Advisories section of the Loyalsock State Forest page, post information about roads affected by two-way traffic control and the need to stop at checkpoints. (Currently, information about such roads is posted on the Road Advisories page on the DCNR Web site, but accessing this page from the home page is challenging. Also, the Road Advisories page doesn’t mention that motorists need to stop at checkpoints.)

More Information

Visit the Trail Logbook Project landing page for more information about this initiative, our partners, and to submit your own report.

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Summer Summary of the Trail Logbook Project

As summer transitioned into fall, and as winter knocks on our doorsteps in PA, I would like to take some time to summarize the preliminary feedback coming in through our pilot Trail Logbook Project. The project, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is a collaboration between Keystone Trails Association (KTA) and FracTracker Alliance. With the expansion of unconventional natural gas extraction into our state forests, we wanted to understand the experiences of people who are using those areas for recreation – and to document the change in those experiences as drilling continues. Most of the results of the project so far indicate that drilling is having a small, but notable effect on the traditionally tranquil experiences of hikers, bikers, and the like across the Commonwealth. The most common complaints are those of noise and degradation of scenery (see complete list ofLogbook reports below, or trail alerts on KTA’s website). Some people who entered information into the Logbook have noted that gas-drilling opponents have actually contributed to the degradation of the local scenery with graffiti and protest signs.

Given the number of hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts that frequent the Commonwealth every year, we need more people to report back to us in order to make a comprehensive and accurate statement about the overall impacts that drilling may be having on some of PA’s most beautiful natural resources. Perhaps there are no more issues to report, or perhaps people just don’t know who to tell. Regardless, we hope to expand our efforts to promote the project, which includes working with trail organizations in other states where shale gas activities may conflict with trail use.

On a side note, the lack of awareness about the Logbook and the state of drilling in popular recreation areas are key reasons why we are hosting a series of media tours this fall. The first was held on October 25th in Loyalsock State Forest due to the conerns of environmental concervation groups and residents about the communication barriers in existence between DCNR, the natural gas industry, and the public. If you are interested in participating in one of the next two tours, learn more here.

The full list of Logbook complaints to-date and the main areas impacted by unconventional natural gas extraction activity according to those reports are listed below:

Complaints from Logbook

Visual Degradation of Scenery

  • Anti-gas drilling graffiti
  • Flagging tape indicating seismic testing or road widening littered the area, called into question the “leave no trace” character of the trail
  • Intense construction activity and clearings for pipelines

Noise Pollution

  • Constant noise from compressor station
  • Helicopters
  • Construction and well pad noise

Safety

  • Seismic Testing: One hiker found 2 red wires with labels “Danger Explosives” portruding up from the ground
  • Seismic Testing: Equipment left right on the trail

Convenience

  • Trail relocation (4 miles)
  • Flagging tape caused confusion regarding the direction of trail

Main Areas Impacted

Trail Logbook Project

Collaborative Trail Logbook – Reporting Gas Industry Impacts on PA Trail Experiences

(Harrisburg) – FracTracker.org and the Keystone Trails Association are proud to launch Trail Logbook: Reporting Gas Industry Impacts on Pennsylvania Trail Experiences – an effort to collect information from hikers and other trail users who have had negative or hazardous encounters while recreating in PA.

“Throughout the Marcellus Shale region, more and more we’re hearing of problems from our constituents,” said Curt Ashenfelter, Executive Director of the Keystone Trails Association (KTA) – a volunteer-directed, public service organization dedicated to providing, preserving, protecting and promoting recreational hiking trails and hiking opportunities in PA. “Pennsylvania hikers are concerned about the effect of drilling and want to play a role in monitoring the impact of this industry on PA’s forests and hiking trails.

With a simple-to-use form – available online and as a mail-in postcard – data on a variety of trail impacts related to shale gas drilling activities will be uploaded to FracTracker.org, a website providing a common portal to share data, photos, maps, and information related to the issues corollary to the shale gas industry. Photos of reported impacts can also be submitted.

“We’re pleased to be a partner in this grassroots endeavor to aggregate what have to date been mostly anecdotal but often alarming reports from our state’s extraordinary network of trails,” said Brook Lenker, Director of FracTracker. “We hope the information gathered helps to clarify the nature of the impacts and leads to sustainable solutions.”

“With over 3,000 miles of hiking trails in Pennsylvania and tourism being the Commonwealth’s 2nd largest industry, it’s critical to expose and address recurring problems caused by gas drilling activities, “ Ashenfelter added. “With a quick feedback loop like FracTracker, we can report problems to the appropriate agencies and gas drilling companies and seek remediation quickly.”

For more information on the Trail Logbook project, contact:

To  see the Trail Logbook submission page or to submit data, visit: http://stg.fractracker.org/logbook. If you would prefer to print out the logbook and mail it in, click here.

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