Two groups to appeal approval of forest drilling

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Two environmental groups have filed notice they will appeal a September federal court ruling that said the U.S. Forest Service doesn't have the authority to delay oil and gas drilling in the Allegheny National Forest until an environmental impact study is done.

The Allegheny Defense Project and Sierra Club notice of appeal was filed with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week in the 2009 case Minard Run Oil Co. et al v. U.S. Forest Service et al. It will claim that U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin's ruling that the Forest Service has only limited power to regulate drilling operations didn't consider the forest management protections contained in the 1911 Weeks Act, the legislation that created the state's only national forest, said Ryan Talbott, executive director of the ADP.

"By restricting the Forest Service's authority to regulate to protect the Allegheny National Forest from the impacts of oil and gas development," Mr. Talbott said, "the court is ignoring the very purpose for which the Allegheny was created in the first place -- to conserve and protect the watersheds in the upper Allegheny River watershed."

The Forest Service owns the surface rights of the 513,000-acre forest, but the mineral rights under 93 percent of that acreage are in private hands and courts have ruled that the owners have the right to access those holdings.

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