This Is Not A Drill
by Buck Quigley - posted 3:10 pm, July 28, 2009
The national debate about drilling in natural areas is heating up locally as the U.S. Energy Development Corporation, located at 2350 North Forest Road in Getzville, NY, proceeds with plans to develop five new wells in Allegany State Park.
Recently, NYS Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, Larry Beahan, and other concerned citizens have been turning their attention to the state park, as they did over a decade ago when the Pataki administration was moving toward selling timber rights in the park. Back then, former 10,000 Maniac Natalie Merchant hopped on the bandwagon and public opinion swung against the lumber industry.
Now, Hoyt is spearheading efforts with the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation “to forever protect Allegany from commercial logging and oil and mineral mining.”
Just as pro-drilling forces are losing their perkiest national cheerleader in the form of ex-Alaska Governor Sarah (Drill, baby, drill!) Palin—their case is further compromised by U.S. Energy Development Corporation’s recent rebuke from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, for their activities just south of Allegany State Park, across the state border in McKean and Warren counties.
On July 10, the department issued a cease and desist order to U.S. Energy “for persistent and repeated violations of environmental laws and regulations. The order prohibits the company from conducting all earth disturbance, drilling and hydro-fracturing operations throughout Pennsylvania.”
Over a period of just two years, beginning in August, 2007, U.S. Energy chalked up 302 violations of the Clean Streams Law, the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act, the Oil and Gas Act, and the Solid Waste Management Act. U.S. Energy is the owner and operator of the wells in the Alleghany National Forest in Pennsylvania, which borders Allegany State Park in New York.
According to the order, one third of the violations have been corrected, but the civil penalties for those violations have not been resolved. Among the many violations cited by the DEP are the unpermitted discharge of residual and industrial waste into the ground and the waters of the Commonwealth.
In Pennsylvania, U.S. Energy has had to “cease all gas and oil well activities including, but not limited to well stimulation, well drilling, road construction, pipeline construction and any other related well activities” in the state until the DEP notifies them in writing that they have complied with all the obligations of the order. They must also stop all “earth disturbance activities” except those necessary to fix the damage they’ve already done. View the cease and desist order here.
Prior to the park’s official designation in 1921, the area was widely drilled for oil, including the first oil well in New York State, which was completed in 1864. While the state controls the surface rights to the park land, private interests have been unwilling to relinquish ownership of what lies beneath to this day.
One bill supported by Hoyt would create a sunset provision for privately held oil and gas interests beneath the park.
U.S. Energy spokesperson Matt Iak confirmed that they have access to mineral rights in Allegany State Park, and that they are “going through the various channels” to make those wells a reality.
However, a spokesperson for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation had this to report: “U.S. Energy has never applied for drilling permits in Allegany State Park. That being said, they have been drilling wells on a regular basis in other parts of Region 9 area (Western New York), and DEC does receive drilling applications from them on a regular basis.”
When asked about the Pennsylvania DEP order, Iak said, “It’s premature for us to make a comment. I can tell you that we’re both working with the same interest at heart, and it’s in very good spirit right now.”
He would not respond to any particular charges included in the order. “I’m not saying I don’t want to respond. I’m not in a position to respond until they give you the final word on what’s going on, and I think you’ll have a different opinion at that point in time.”
A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania DEP said that “the scope and magnitude” of U.S. Energy’s violations “is not commonplace, and that’s why we took the action that we did.”