Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mount Pleasant Township Shale Meeting

A Washington County township that has been having a very public dispute with Range Resources is closer to a hydraulic fracturing ordinance that will protect all residents.

Listen to the report by WDUQ's Erika Beras

Just as they did last week for a meeting hosted by Range Resources, hundreds of residents packed a fire hall in Hickory for another meeting – this one hosted by Mt. Pleasant Township Supervisors.

The topic at hand? Coming up with an ordinance that will allow drilling to continue in the mostly rural township where 90 percent of landowners have gas leases but will also protect the residents from the troubles that come with hydraulic fracturing, the controversial gas drilling method by which natural gas is extracted from shale deep underground.

At the meeting last week, Range Resources, the primary drilling company in the township told residents that their dealings with the township supervisors had been very difficult and if they didn’t improve, they would discontinue activity in the community.

"Keep in mind we have 450,000 de-risked acres in Washington County alone. We can go drill somewhere else for a while," he said.

That news didn’t go over well with those at the meeting, many of whom stand to make lots of money from drilling. And some criticized Range Resources, saying they were trying to turn residents against their local government. The main discussion centered around the type of ordinance to be applied to hydraulic fracturing. In the proposed ordinance drafted by the Township Supervisors they want a conditional ordinance. But Range Resources wants an ordinance that would allow permitting rather than conditional use.

John Smith, special counsel for the Township for all things Shale-related has been working with different townships and oil and gas companies in drafting new ordinances. He said most of the neighboring townships have agreed to conditional ordinances which give local government some authority.

"Morris Township has done it on a regular basis, Robinson, Upper Saint Clair, all of the surrounding communities have it, and its consistent. Its not targeting the drilling operations, its consistent. If you look at the conditional uses in ordinances, anything that’s not normal in a residential area would be a conditional use so that the board would have some input," he said.

Larry Grimm is the Vice Chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Mount Pleasant Township.

"They want a permitted use ordinance. Which is what they have now and they go everywhere they want and when they want and we have no control over it at all. And that’s not looking out for our township’s best interest nor our residents best interest," he said.

Grimm said the supervisors have spent the last 18 months working on the ordinance, one in a series that will attempt to regulate different aspects of fracking in the township.

Before the gas industry came to the community, many describe it as a rural, economically depressed yet plesant community. It has changed in just a few years, something residents repeatedly talked about.

About 60 people spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, many voicing for or against the ordinance, others taking the opportunity to speak about other fracking related issues.

Richard Ward, Chairman of the Planning Commission for Robinson Township, commended the Mt. Pleasant Township supervisors for drafting an ordinance with the residents well-being as a priority.

"What they don’t want is conditional use. That makes them have to spend more money and work harder to get done what they want done," he said.

He said that Robinson recently passed a conditional use ordinance.

Just before Tuesday’s meeting, the supervisors and Range Resources agreed to sit down with an uninvolved third party mediator Donald Ziegler, a retired Federal Third Circuit and Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge and come up with a new ordinance.

The township supervisors were scheduled to vote on the ordinance on the 27th but that has now been postponed.

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