By DEAN WELLS email@example.com
Dec. 1o, 2009
A decision regarding drilling in the Allegheny National Forest is still pending in U.S. District Court and a Warren County Commissioner sees no resolution in the very near future.
An evidentiary hearing was held in August in U.S. District Court in Erie before Judge Sean McLaughlin regarding a preliminary injunction filed by Minard Run Oil, Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association (POGAM), the Allegheny Forest Alliance and Warren County.
The plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction against a settlement in a prior lawsuit that called for the U.S. Forest Service to agree to perform the appropriate level of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis before approving future oil and gas development projects on the National Forest.Warren County joined the oil and gas interests in the lawsuit for an injunction, arguing that a moratorium on drilling will have a devastating impact on the local economy.
The defendants in the lawsuit are the Forest Service, the agency's local and national leaders, the Allegheny Defense Project, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics and the Sierra Club.McLaughlin heard testimony for three days at the end of August from the defendants in favor of dismissing the suit and the plaintiffs arguing in favor of a preliminary injunction. McLaughlin concluded the hearing by giving attorneys 20 days after the official transcript was released to file post-hearing submissions.
Warren County Commissioners John Bortz speculated in October that McLaughlin would make his decision by the end of the month, but that never happened. Now, Bortz doesn't foresee a decision being handed down in 2009.
"We were supposed to hear something before the end of the year," Bortz said. "I personally don't expect to see anything before the end of January."
While trying to remain optimistic, Bortz said he doesn't see a happy ending for the plaintiffs. "I don't think it's going to be good," he said. "It might be ugly."
Bortz added, "While I'm an ardent supporter of capitalizing on our natural assets, I do not support drilling at any cost or irresponsible activity in the forest. Those guys who are being responsible and respecting the forest, I don't have any problem with that. Those guys who are saying, 'I'm going to get what's coming to me, I don't care what the Forest Service says,' I don't agree with that at all."