At the start of the 20th century, the Warren area was known as the Allegheny brushpile. The logging industry stripped the hills of all timber and just walked away. The U.S. Forest Service bought the land and started a long-term revitalization. Through their stewardship, the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) is what it is today. We have world-class black cherry, impressive oak stands, and a good mixture of hardwoods. The streams are clear, and fish and wildlife abound. Most of this protection came through the EPA's (Environmental Protection Agency) mandatory NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) ruling. Areas to be developed must be studied to determine the impact on plants, animals, and watercourses. In the past, this has worked very well in preserving the wilderness feeling of this fantastic forest.
That has turned the corner.
There are 325,000-recorded wells in Pennsylvania. Most were drilled many years ago and forgotten. Evidence of these wells and their pipelines can be seen throughout the state. Many old wells were not plugged and the methane gas still migrates to the surface. Only nature has tried to reclaim these old sites. Our state legislature has levied a fine of $2500 per well that is not reclaimed within nine months, or $25,000 bond for ALL of the operators wells. It is simple math: it costs more to reclaim a site than to just walk away after plugging. Senator Mary Jo White, chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, understands this and is trying to change the reclamation process so it's more attractive to reclaim the site than pay the fine.
According to the General Mining Act of 1872 is a United States federal law that authorizes and governs prospecting and mining for economic minerals, such as gold, platinum, and silver, on federal public lands. This law, approved on May 10, 1872, codified the informal system of acquiring and protecting mining claims on public land, formed by prospectors in California and Nevada from the late 1840s through the 1860s, such as during the California Gold Rush. All citizens of the United States of America 18 years or older have the right under the 1872 mining law to locate a lode (hard rock) or placer (gravel) mining claim on federal lands open to mineral entry. These claims may be located once a discovery of a locatable mineral is made. Locatable minerals include but are not limited to platinum, gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, uranium and tungsten. Title 30 Chapter 2 Sec 21a, "The Congress declares that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government in the national interest to foster and encourage private enterprise in (4) and the reclamation of mined land, so as to lessen any adverse impact of mineral extraction and processing upon physical environment. ". This seems to be the section of this powerful law that has been ignored.
With a traditional well, we have a site of about one acre. With Marcellus Shale, upward of five acres will be barren for many years to come. And we still have the Utica Shale play to contend with in the future. Over half of Pennsylvania is within these fields and will be impacted. The Utica Shale is located across much of the Appalachian Basin in the Northeast U.S. The play covers a larger geographic area than the Marcellus Shale and is prospective for both oil and gas. The Utica Shale is from the Ordovician age and is found approximately 2,000 feet below the Marcellus Shale. The Forest Service took the position that mineral rights owners were required to obtain an Notice to Proceed (NTP) prior to making any changes to land in the ANF. However, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals (No. 09-125, 2009 WL 4937785, at *22 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 15, 2009) has decided that a NEPA or EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) study is not necessary to retrieve sub-surface property Oil, Gas, Mineral (OGM). This will only lead to a major boomtown atmosphere. With no checks and balances, the drillers will have the last word on where a well, and it's connecting roads, will go in. Couple this with the recent ruling by the courts that sandstone is a mineral and property of the sub-surface owners, the gravel pits and well sites will dominate this forest.
Cooperation and reasonable drilling is necessary for the North Country National Scenic Trail to maintain its Premier Footpath. Keeping it as close to nature as possible while still remembering our local legacy is a daunting task. Trail Corridor Protection is essential and crucial, with simplest limited guide lines that would satisfy all parties. Time is not on the trail's side, because of the expeditious movement and encroaching elements, without intelligent, rapid foresight the NCT may become last in line. Trail Corridor Protection will provide permanent fortification for the Trail's inherent future, for many generations to enjoy.