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Allegheny Forest Drilling Plan Unlikely to Succeed

ERIE, Pa. (CN) - An erstwhile ban on drilling in the Allegheny National Forest should remain scrapped, a federal judge ruled.

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U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin's decision echoes another from December 2009, in which he preliminarily enjoined the U.S. Forest Service from enforcing a moratorium on drilling for oil and gas in the roughly 517,000-acre forest in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Eight months earlier, the agency had settled a case brought by the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. The deal required the service to conduct environmental analyses before letting energy firms drill in the forest, and the agency indicated that it would not authorize any drilling without a forest-wide environmental study.

That June, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association and the Minard Run Oil Company filed suit, challenging the settlement and the agency's authority to restrict drilling operations during preparation of the study.

Judge McLaughlin on Thursday converted his December 2009 injunction - which was unanimously affirmed by the 3rd Circuit in September 2011 - into a final judgment.

He said the 3rd Circuit already decided that the Forest Service was overreaching its authority in trying to regulate private mineral rights in the forest.

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