One of the natural gems of our whole region is Allegheny National Forest, a hundred miles north of Pittsburgh. Now the Allegheny Defense Project and the Sierra Club are in court trying to ensure that the U.S. Forest Service has sufficient oversight of oil and gas drilling in this national forest, and that the public is not excluded from decisions regarding any oil and gas drilling. In September 2012, a U.S. District Judge ruled that the Forest Service has limited authority to regulate oil and gas drilling in the Allegheny NF. As part of a long legal battle, the environmental groups appealed that decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
The groups argue that the lower court’s decision is flawed because it ignored the history of why Congress created national forests in the eastern United States in the first place – namely, because the states had failed to protect the headwaters of streams and rivers from private industry. The groups claim that Congress clearly intended to empower the Forest Service to impose reasonable regulations on oil and gas companies that build roads, pipelines, and well sites on national forest land. This is particularly important today, as the Marcellus Shale gas boom spreads across Pennsylvania and now threatens the Allegheny National Forest. If the lower court decision is upheld, it will mean that the Forest Service will be virtually powerless to protect the Allegheny from companies drilling and fracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.
Thanks to Ryan Talbot of the Allegheny Defense Project for the basis of this article.
NOTE: This article was edited June 5 to remove any impression that the purpose of the lawsuit is to actually prevent oil and gas drilling on the Allegheny NF where the sub-surface rights are privately owned.