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This Is Not A Drill

AlleganyStatePark2The 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.”


  • loneragnger

    Outrageous that we would destroy such economic development and jobs for the love of nature.

  • HapKlein

    My comment to: Allegany.Plan@oprhp.state.ny.us

    This is in response to the initiation of the Master Plan for Allegany State Park (ASP). This magnificent park is 100 square miles of hills and forest on the Pennsylvania border just 70 miles south of Buffalo.

    About twenty years ago top Parks Officials especially in WNY began a forest management plan to use Allegany State Park as a modified tree plantation. I spoke with Jim Riach at the time and he assured me his formost instinct was for forest management since he was a forester first and aprk superintendent second. After all sorts of outrageous machinations including nearly secret public hearings supported mainly by the timber industry, the Parks folk wisely just shelved the plan. Now a bonifide Allegany State Park Unit Management Plan has entered the Scoping Stage and this mineral rights issue bubbles to the surface.
    I think ASP should have further Forever Wild Protection as a New York State Nature and Historical Preserve. In the past 20 years we have had too many possible commercial threats to this very special and precious place not to make it a permanently protected park

    Now, we have an enlighted era opening in which Commissioner Ash has a no-commercial-logging policy for all State Parks. We all applaud this since these our parks represent considerable investments over many decades and the return from commercial logging would never yield a satisfactory return on our over all investment.

    The park currently is mostly endangered by the Beehunter Trail area where various yet to be indentified entities still hold some 5000 acres of Park that could be cut up with roads and storage wells for natural gas storage. The State must find a way to minimize the impacts this entity could have in the park.

    A larger danger might exist with the Marcellus shale gas developments that might threaten the Park. The mile-deep Marcellus wells has mammoth wellheads and demand huge quantities of water. We are sincerely hopeful that these dangerous practices would automatically be neutralized in the park through policy development that would deny the work within the Allegany drainage basin.

    Trails

    I was surprised at the July 9, information meeting that many folk are under informed about the nature and location of trails. I was once part of a group that was trying to set policy and guidance about trails in ASP. Perhaps staff has been involved with this but Public involvement could educate and get various different users to the table to develop better trails policy.

    About ten years ago a snowmobile group developed a trail from a nearby restaurant into the Park and the trail was developed adjacent to the Summit multi use trail. In winter, this area has been Nordic and snowshoe trails from the cabin area to the Stone Tower. I have been skiing on this trail since the mid 1960’s and up to the entry of the snowmobiles it was a fine and safe trail for skiing at night. But the possibility of encountering a fast moving snowmobile at night has given us pause about venturing along the trail at night.

    I think all the trails systems can nominally be multi use unless soils were too soft for bicycle use and if so bicycles should be kept off the entire trail system leading to that point. But I don’t think policy should allow powered users to be adjacent and on the same trail as skiers and snowshoe.

    I would hope that a philosophy of use corridors for trails could be developed and better dedicated trails could result. I have found that some soils are just too soft and not suitable for wheeled vehicles or horses and the entire trail system should reflect this reality. Trying to maintain trials that are constantly degraded by users is just silly business and policy development can avert such catastrophes.

    The woods don’t need to be cut up with any more trails, I think there are more trails available than are a wise use of the park. I would do soils inventories and begin trail justification on foot traffic then add other uses with care. This said I note that when we ski down the Ridgeview Trail and with sufficient snow take a back country jaunt to the Thunder Rocks area everyone seems to come out at a different point. Perhaps a winter trailhead and some signage could reduce the danger in this stretch of
    The Park needs better drinking water. Some serious research should be conducted to explore new sources and develop better and more reliable delivery systems.

    The entire infrastrucure shows neglect and even the cabins need paint and repair. The current park is the result of many generations of investment and to let that go means we are losing value. Once a park’s infrastructure is undermined it can take decades to catch up with need and the legislature should constantly be updated with current needs.

    The beautiful old Red House Administration Building needs fire protection. We cannot afford to lose any more historic relics as we did the Red House Inn and Town Hall.

    The natural and cultural history of the Park needs a fuller telling.

    Give hunters all the help they need to keep the deer herd from consuming the woods.
    Let’s keep major collections of people in the developed areas and out of the woods, no more National Muzzle Loader Rifle encampments to trample the wild section.
    No saw mills. No shotgun ranges.

    In short let us develop a plan that will allow our descendants to enjoy the green jewel that I was introduced to in 1946 and have enjoyed annually, the year around since.

  • ASPfan

    HapKlein what exactly does it mean to “give hunters all the help they need to keep the deer herd from consuming the woods.”???…..where do you come up with this stuff. What would you have done with the Red House Inn??? opened it for business? It would have taken hundrends of thousands of dollars to restore that place to working condition. Last time I checked the country was in a recession with NYS being the frontrunner in states with financial problems, who’s gonna pony up cash for these ‘ideas’ of yours. I’m sure you would be the first to object to an increase in taxes or fees to enter the park.