2013-09-14 / Front Page

Drillers moving onto state forest land


This might not be most people’s image when they think of state forest land in the Pennsylvania Wilds, but it is a sight that is becoming more frequent. Mineral rights on thousands of state-owned forest, game and park acres are owned by energy companies who are beginning to harvest natural gas. Other acres where the state owns the subsurface rights are being leased to drillers. This is a Seneca Resources rig recently moved onto land in the East Branch Dam area in the Elk State Forest. This might not be most people’s image when they think of state forest land in the Pennsylvania Wilds, but it is a sight that is becoming more frequent. Mineral rights on thousands of state-owned forest, game and park acres are owned by energy companies who are beginning to harvest natural gas. Other acres where the state owns the subsurface rights are being leased to drillers. This is a Seneca Resources rig recently moved onto land in the East Branch Dam area in the Elk State Forest. This isn’t you father’s, or your grandfather’s, state forest.

Beneath the oaks, cherries and maples that have been a bounty for wildlife and a boon for timbercutters over more than a century lies a resource worth billions of dollars.

Natural gas fills the subsurface of state forest, game and park lands across Potter and Cameron counties. Much of that acreage exists in a “split estate.” The commonwealth owns the surface rights, but private owners – many of them energy companies – own the mineral rights.

Now that natural gas has been confirmed in multiple shale layers two miles or more below the surface, and technology has been developed to harvest it, massive sections of the Susquehannock and Elk state forests are going to be drilled.

While companies are zeroing-in on their own holdings, some of them have also been awarded drilling rights on acreage where the state does own the mineral rights. Lease payments and royalties on that shale gas are being eyed by some in Harrisburg as a solution to the state’s worsening budget crunch.

Foresters at the Elk State Forest office in Emporium have been working with Seneca

Resources to minimize the im- pact of its shale gas drilling in the East Branch Dam area. Seneca plans to drill multiple wells on at least half-dozen pads and develop the associated infrastructure, such as pipelines, compressors, and meter stations to move the gas to market.

“Seneca has been very proactive and cooperative in the planning process, so as to minimize impacts to the forest and its users, including camp lessees and snowmobilers,” according to the Forestry Bureau’s Andy Sidelinger.

Meanwhile, in the Hicks Run area, energy company EQT has been preparing for multiple Marcellus shale wells and a pipeline project on State Game Lands 14. To access the property, EQT is using all of East Hicks and Hicks Run roads from Rt. 555 to the game lands parking area near Erickson’s Tree Farm.

EQT will be restricted as to when they can use these roads to minimize conflflict and increase safety with the upcoming fall hunting and wildlife viewing seasons.

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