Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Warren County Commissioner gathering evidence for oil/gas drilling hearing

By BRIAN FERRY bferry@timesobserver.com
TIMES OBSERVER, August 18, 2009

One side says the economic impacts are devastating.

The other side doesn't see it that way.

The judge in a case filed by representatives of the oil and gas industry against the U.S. Forest Service and environmental groups wants to hear the specifics of those economic impacts.

Warren County Commissioner John Bortz will be one of the witnesses testifying at an evidentiary hearing scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in federal court in Erie.

To prepare for that event, Bortz, with the help of Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry (WCCBI) Director of Workforce Development Heidi Powley, is gathering evidence.


Bortz did not disclose the results of the survey that had come in as of Monday, but gave a preliminary outline of the findings.

"There is a degree of confirmation" of negative effects on the economy, he said. "They are pointing to a direct impact from the moratorium on new development."

"This is having a direct effect on us locally," Bortz said.

Powley explained that she has been polling local businesses via email.

"I basically asked them how the ruling... has impacted their business," she said.

Those polled include all chamber members and various other business contacts in Warren, Forest, McKean and Elk counties, Powley said.

She did not disclose the results of the polling but said she has been getting responses.

In July, U.S. District Court Judge Sean McLaughlin scheduled the evidentiary hearing after a hearing to rule on a defense motion to dismiss the lawsuit and a plaintiff motion for a preliminary injunction against a prior settlement.

In that prior settlement, the Forest Service and plaintiffs Allegheny Defense Project (ADP), Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE), and the Sierra Club agreed that the appropriate level of National Environmental Policy Act analysis be done before new drilling development is allowed on the Allegheny National Forest.

The Forest Service agreed to allow several hundred new wells, for which applications were already in place, but to otherwise put a hold on new drilling until a forest-wide Environmental Impact Statement can be prepared. That process is expected to take at least a year.

In the current lawsuit, Minard Run Oil, Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association (POGAM), Allegheny Forest Alliance (AFA) and Warren County are the plaintiffs and the Forest Service, the agency's local and national leaders, ADP, FSEEE, and Sierra Club are named as defendants.

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