Private Property Rights in Allegany State Park Threatened

Allegany State Park is New York’s largest state park at 67,000 acres. The park is located approximately 60 miles south of Buffalo on the border of New York and Pennsylvania in Cattaraugus County. Before being designated a state park in 1921, more than 200 oil wells were drilled in the area, including the very first oil well completed in New York State in 1864. The state created the park by purchasing surface rights from landowners in the area, but many of the landowners retained the subsurface rights and oil drilling continued in the park for a number of years, until energy companies moved on to more lucrative locations.

Oil drilling has not happened in the park for many years, but now with gas drilling a real possibility, state authorities who want to “protect” the park are making moves to force those who legally own subsurface rights to either register their interest or lose it. That is, the state wants to forcibly take private property rights away from those who legally own it.

New York state lawmakers are trying to avert a new threat to an old problem at Allegany State Park.

A state law went into effect Sept. 23 stating any oil and gas interests in the park that have been unused for 20 years will revert back to the state unless a statement of claim is filed in the Cattaraugus County clerk’s office by Sept. 22, 2013.

According to its website, “a unique situation” exists in the park since private oil and gas resources were reserved prior to the 1921 acquisition of about 67,000 acres that make up Allegany State Park. Although the rights have not been exercised, parks officials report their existence “complicate(s) the state’s ownership” and creates the potential for “interference” with the public’s right to full enjoyment of the park and its “unique and substantial natural beauty and resources.”

If not used for 20 years, officials state, the rights will be considered “dormant.”

“It is reasonable and appropriate to lapse such rights unless their owners assert their claims,” states the state park’s website about the law. It adds, “the park is an invaluable asset to the state’s tourism economy,” whose resources “deserve a level of protection.”*

MDN is certainly not against protecting parks and preserving them for future generations. They are a treasure—county parks, state parks and national parks. However, the original error, or “sin” if you will, resides with the state and the way they purchased the land for the park. They are now attempting, by force, to correct their error. They now want to change the rules of the game, bending the law, trampling landowner rights in the process. Sorry, the ends do not justify the means.

If you’re a landowner with subsurface rights in the Allegany State Park, register your interest now. It’s not a forgone conclusion that any gas drilling will take place in the park due to a law passed in 2010 designating most of the park in a preservation area (and not even a forgone conclusion any shale gas drilling will happen anywhere in New York!), but before you lose what rights you have left, exercise them.

*Jamestown The Post-Journal (Nov 1, 2011) – Clearing Up Park Oil, Gas Issues