A petition signed by 2,000 people in favor of continuing oil and gas drilling on the Allegheny National Forest has been sent to President Barack Obama and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
The petition, distributed by the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association (POGAM) and the Allegheny Forest Alliance, urges intervention to lift a ban on oil and gas development by the U.S. Forest Service.
The ban came earlier this year after a settlement between the Forest Service and a group of environmentalists who were seeking to have environmental impact analyses done prior to any drilling on the forest.
The settlement is a deviation from prior management practices, which never required an analysis. The Forest Service has ordered a halt to new drilling until a forest-wide impact assessment can be prepared.
The oil interests say that delay will be devastating to the local economy, as at least a year will pass without drilling and local companies are having to lay-off workers.
On Thursday, Steve Rhoads, president of POGAM, explained the reason behind the petition.
“The only way, outside of a court action, for this stop is if the Forest Service decides to stop or if someone above forces their hand. We don’t expect the Forest Service to back away from its policy. That’s why we’re in court,” he said. “They are shutting the industry down, period.”
“We wanted to demonstrate to the powers that be that the behavior of the Forest Service and the effects of that behavior is far reaching and very damaging,” Rhoads said, “not only to owners of minerals who are being stifled by the bureaucratic logjam this is creating, but the employees, families, and communities as well.“The potential for layoffs is growing as the Forest Service shuts the industry down arbitrarily,” he said. “The economic ramifications are significant. We’re asking for some intercession on behalf of the communities to protect their economic interest and health.”
Nearly 2,000 citizens, and civic and business leaders from McKean, Elk, Warren and Forest counties signed the petition.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit is pending in federal court in which Minard Run Oil Co. of Bradford, along with POGAM, the Forest Alliance and Warren County, are awaiting a judge’s decision on whether to grant a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the settlement order.
“We expect a decision on the preliminary injunction at any time now,” Rhoads said. “We don’t know what that decision will be. We’re hopeful for a positive result.”
He said this petition has nothing to do with any action in federal court.
The petition, on the other hand, is to bring attention to the suffering local oil industry at a time when the federal government is working on stimulating the economy and creating jobs.
“We want to bring attention to the issue at the highest level of governments,” Rhoads said.
“State records show that fewer than 50 wells, all of them permitted prior to the drilling ban imposed on January 1, have been drilled in the Allegheny National Forest during 2009. The Forest Service has prevented the drilling of between 200-300 wells that would have otherwise occurred,” Rhoads said. “These undrilled wells translate into private investment of nearly $100 million and jeopardize hundreds of good-paying jobs in the region. The action of the Forest Service amounts to a full-scale assault on the economic health of the families and communities living in and around the Allegheny National Forest.”
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