On March 23, a Pennsylvania federal district court denied a motion by drilling operators to hold the U.S. Forest Service in contempt of the court’s 2009 ruling that requires the Forest Service to process oil and gas lease development proposals in accordance with that ruling. See Minard Run Oil Co. v. U.S. Forest Service, 2012 WL 994641 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 23, 2012). The court noted that although “there is some evidence to suggest that delay has replaced diligence as the hallmark of the Forest Service’s processing of drilling proposals,” there was not “clear and convincing evidence” sufficient to find the U.S. Forest service in contempt for these activities.
Here’s some background: Federal litigation regarding oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest dates back to a 1980 decision that mineral rights owners in the forest had the right to enter the property and access the minerals, but must provide the U.S. Forest Service with certain information at least 60 days prior to doing so. In a 2009 settlement with an environmental organization, the Forest Service revised its policy and agreed to perform environmental analyses before drilling could go forward. Owners of mineral rights sued the Forest Service and a federal court granted a preliminary injunction against the policy on the basis that they had been denied access to their holdings. In 2009, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction, ruling that the Forest Service policy had the effect of causing severe economic hardship to the plaintiffs.