Pennsylvanians from every walk of life and all corners of the state met outside of Williamsport today to partake in a symbolic 12-mile trek to defend Loyalsock State Forest from a pending gas drilling proposal. Most of these concerned citizens had never met before, but were moved by the call to action to defend the beloved Old Logger’s Path found in the state forest, known for its beautiful waterfalls and breathtaking vistas.
The journey ended in downtown Williamsport. It was meant to serve as a reminder of a great place in need of an advocate and protection. The citizens delivered thousands of petition signatures to local state Senator Gene Yaw calling for a legislative hearing to review the drilling proposal under the group’s scrutiny.
Senator Yaw represents the area in question and is the Chairman of the state Senate’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
Pennsylvanians who enjoy the Commonwealth’s state forest system or oppose gas drilling bristled when they learned that Governor Corbett’s staff have been quietly negotiating surface use agreements in Loyalsock State Forest with the Houston-based gas company, Anadarko.
In response, there has been growing scrutiny from citizens concerned that further gas drilling will degrade these public lands—and a sense that gas drilling companies already have too much access to Pennsylvania’s public lands for their intensive activities.
So braving snow flurries and unseasonably chilly springtime weather, dozens of citizens marched 12 miles from the Matt Mertes trailhead in Loyalsock State Forest down to Senator Yaw’s Williamsport office to deliver 10,000 petitions they helped gather.
“Drillers have access to the vast majority of private property in the shale region,” said David Masur, Executive Director of PennEnvironment. “And some places should just be off limits because of their beauty, environmental and public health importance, and because they’re fragile.”
Loyalsock State Forest has been enjoyed by hundreds of visitors. Some of today’s hikers grew up spending summer vacations in the Loyalsock. For others, the forest essentially serves as their backyard, abutting up against their private property.
“I'm a fourth generation summer resident of Laporte, PA,” said Jennifer Sellers. “My grandmother grew up there and her father was the county judge. We’ve hiked, fished and swam in Loyalsock State Forest for over 100 years. Yes, this is personal.”
Some hikers who came from farther distances have already experienced firsthand the damages that gas drilling can inflict and they are marching to protect other state forests from falling to more development for gas drilling.
“The state has already allowed gas industry access to Tiadaghton State Forest, where I have lived along Pine Creek in western Lycoming County for the past 40 years,” says David Kagan, author of Pine Creek Villages, a book detailing history of the valley neighboring Loyalsock State Forest. “I am glad to help in the fight for Loyalsock State Forest.”
“Drillers have access to millions of acres in Pennsylvania,” Masur warned. “So do they really need to destroy this pristine stretch of state forest? When do we say ‘Enough is enough?’”
Anadarko has already drilled close to 300 wells in Pennsylvania, and a 2012 study by PennEnvironment showed that the company has been cited for over 150 violations since 2008.
“The omnipresence of the gas industry—the heavy, unrelenting truck traffic; the clear-cutting of forest land; the seismic testing operations; the erection of gas pads, holding ponds, water and gas pipes, and noisy compressors among many others—is a blight to the land and a heavy burden to the people,” noted Kagan.
“PennEnvironment and thousands of other Pennsylvanians urge Chairman Yaw as well as Governor Corbett’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to do everything in their power to protect this incredible wild place before it is too late,” said Masur. “For the sake of our forests, our health, and our state heritage.”