A federal court in Pennsylvania has vacated a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) settlement agreement that required the service to complete an environmental impact assessment before authorizing new oil-and-gas drilling in the Allegheny National Forest. Minard Run Oil Co. v. USFS, No. 09-125 (W.D. Pa. 9/7/12). The agreement with several environmental groups effectively halted new oil-and-gas development in the national forest, which overlies the Marcellus Shale formation.
In December 2009, the district court issued a preliminary injunction temporarily barring the USFS from implementing the settlement’s terms and requiring it to follow the process that has been in place since 1980 for authorizing new oiland- gas wells. Under that process, mineral rights owners must provide the USFS with 60 days’ notice of their drilling plans during which the parties negotiate details such as well locations and access to minimize disturbance of surface land managed by the agency. After three environmental groups appealed the district court decision, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the preliminary injunction and remanded the case to the district court for a decision on the merits. Minard Run Oil Co. v. USFS, 670 F.3d 244 (3d Cir. 9/20/11).
On remand, the district court said it was bound by the Third Circuit’s legal determination on its preliminary injunction ruling and further said that many of the environmental groups’ remaining arguments “lack merit.”