Order lifting drilling ban in forest is finalized

A federal judge has finalized his 2009 preliminary order to lift a ban on the drilling of oil and gas wells in the Allegheny National Forest (ANF).U.S. District Court Judge Sean McLaughlin of Erie on Thursday “converted” his 2009 order into a “final declaratory judgment on the merits.”In his 2009 order, McLaughlin said “enforcement of the forest-wide drilling ban in the ANF is hereby preliminary enjoined.”“Proposals for drilling activity shall instead be processed forthwith in the same form and manner in which they had been prior to the inception of the drilling ban,” the judge said in the order that is now final.The order also blocked “further implementation of the settlement agreement” between the U.S. Forest Service and anti-drilling plaintiffs in a 2008 federal lawsuit.The plaintiffs included the Sierra Club, the Allegheny Defense Project and the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE).The plaintiffs in that case claimed that the Forest Service issued “notices to proceed” to drillers without the proper preparation of environmental studies under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).In settling this lawsuit in 2009, the Forest Service agreed to ban new drilling until it prepared an environmental analysis under NEPA.The Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Association (PIOGA), Minard Run Oil of Bradford, the Allegheny Forest Alliance (AFA) and Warren County challenged the settlement in federal court in Erie.McLaughlin called for a special hearing and heard 16 hours of testimony over a three-day period in 2009.