Ruling on forest stone may help in drilling case

Last week’s judicial ruling on the ownership of sandstone in the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) may help bring about a favorable court decision for forest oil and gas well drillers.That’s the message given by R. Timothy McCrum, a Washington-based attorney who represents the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) and Minard Run Oil of Bradford.A federal district judge in Erie last week ruled that sandstone beneath the ANF is a mineral along with oil and gas reserves. The judge said owners of the mineral rights in the ANF should have reasonable access to their subsurface property.Another Erie federal district judge in December 2009 issued a preliminary injunction to allow the resumption of drilling for oil and gas in the ANF.The U.S. Forest Service appealed this ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. A decision is pending from this Philadelphia court.In a letter Friday to the clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals, McCrum raised several points that he hopes will lead to a decision against the appeal.“Two district judges have found the Forest Service is exceeding its limited property rights in split-estate situations,” McCrum said in reference to the preliminary injunction and the sandstone ruling. Most of the ANF is a “split-estate” under state law with the federal government owning the surface and private companies owning the subsurface mineral rights.