Legislation backs owners of mineral rights in forest

Glenn "GT" Thompson
Ted Lutz
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON DC —  U.S. Representative Glenn "GT" Thompson on Friday re-introduced a bill to ensure further protections for private property owners and energy producers in the Allegheny National Forest.
H.R. 245, the Cooperative Management of Mineral Rights Act of 2019, is in direct response to prior unsuccessful legal challenges, which aimed to stifle the rights of private property owners and energy producers in Pennsylvania’s only national forest, the ANF.
U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin in December 2009 ruled that the U.S. Forest Service did not have the ability to regulate sub-surface mineral rights in the ANF because these rights are privately owned. The ruling came after days of intense hearings in the U.S. District Court in Erie.
The plaintiffs in the case included Minard Run Oil of Bradford and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association. 
The lawsuit developed after the Forest Service placed a moratorium on drilling in the ANF pending an environmental impact assessment. 
McLaughlin's ruling reinstated previous Forest Service oversight for ANF drilling that had been in place for years.
The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 upheld the federal district court ruling, which was challenged by the Sierra Club and the Allegheny Defense Project.
When the forest was formed in 1923, the federal government acquired the surface, which now covers more than 500,000 acres. However, more than 90 percent of the sub-surface mineral rights remained in private hands and are still privately held today.
Despite being successfully regulated by the state for decades, a federal law passed in 1992 required the Forest Service to write new regulations on oil and gas production in the ANF.  
However, federal courts have several times ruled that the Forest Service does not have the authority to do so because the minerals in the ANF are privately owned.
Thompson’s bill, which is consistent with the findings of the courts, corrects federal law by repealing the improper 1992 requirement. 
"The legislation specifically repeals the 1992 provision directly citing oil and gas production in the ANF, as it runs contrary to the findings of the courts," according to Thompson's office.
The House of Representatives previously passed Thompson’s legislation twice with strong bi-partisan support, overwhelmingly in 2016 and unanimously in 2017.
Since the House-approved legislation has yet to be finalized, Thompson had to re-introduce the bill in the new Congress.
“The Cooperative Management of Mineral Rights Act will clarify existing law, put the brakes on more excessive litigation over oil and gas production in the ANF and ensure mineral owners access to their property,” Thompson said in a statement. “I am proud to sponsor this common-sense legislation and look forward to working with my colleagues to get it across the finish line during the 116th Congress.”