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Environmental group calls for delay on Plum fracking vote

Dillon Carr
| Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, 5:21 p.m.
An Apex Energy drilling-rig operation
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
An Apex Energy drilling-rig operation

A national environmental advocacy group is calling on Plum officials to delay a vote that would limit fracking activity to rural residential and industrial zones because it thinks Plum officials have hidden information from the public.

Food & Water Watch of Western Pennsylvania said Plum officials have known about Huntley & Huntley's plans to drill in Plum since March.

Doug Shields, Western Pennsylvania outreach liaison for Food & Water Watch believes that reinforces his hunch that Plum is delaying a Plum resident's Right-To-Know request until after council's Monday vote on the zoning ordinance.

The claims are being denied by officials from the borough and Huntley & Huntley.

Matt Kelso, a Plum resident and manager of data and technology for FracTracker Alliance, filed an Right-To-Know request with Plum officials on Nov. 29 seeking information regarding correspondence between the borough and oil and gas companies. According to Kelso, the borough requested a 30-day extension to fill the request.

FracTracker Alliance is a nonprofit organization that tracks oil and gas development across the world.

Per state law, Plum Borough was sent Huntley & Huntley's permit application to drill an unconventional well on Coxcomb Hill Road in March.

The document was sent to 37 municipal managers and property owners in the immediate vicinity of the well pad.

Shields wonders why the borough did not share Huntley & Huntley's plans with the public for months.

“The fracking industry has a track record of dividing communities in order to advance their objectives,” Shields said in a press release. “In this case, it seems Huntley & Huntley worked hand in hand with Plum Borough leadership to deprive the public of critical information.”

Borough Manager Michael Thomas said Shields' claims make no sense.

He said the borough does not have a system in place to notify the public every time the DEP or other organizations submit permits, which passed on to the borough's officials on a regular basis.

“It would serve no purpose,” Thomas said. “We'd be constantly notifying.”

Some of those notices do not materialize into real developments, he said. And when they do, sometimes companies don't start construction for up to two years.

He said he does not recall the DEP notice with Huntley & Huntley's plans.

The first time their plans were made available to the public, Thomas said, was on July 21 when the company submitted its land development plans to the planning commission. The commission then tabled the plans at its Aug. 21 meeting but approved the plans Sept. 18.

Council first saw Huntley & Huntley's plans to drill at its Oct. 11 meeting.

“And that was all done in public,” Thomas said.

Councilman Dave Vento said he was not aware the borough received a DEP notice about Huntley & Huntley's plans to drill in Plum.

“I am troubled by the fact that some people decided to keep this information from myself and from the public,” Vento said. “The notice should have been provided to all members of the council. I wonder what else has been withheld.”

Councilman Dave Majernik said he thinks he remembers being notified of Huntley & Huntley's plans to drill in Plum in March, April or May.

When asked why he did not make that information known to the public, he said he wasn't aware until July.

“There isn't any dishonesty going on,” Majernik said. “We have to pass the zoning ordinance because of the fact that other things that can be done when it's passed are being held up.”

Majernik said that groups are using scare tactics to delay the vote.

Paul Burke, Huntley & Huntley's vice president and attorney, called the suggestion that his company and Plum colluded to withhold information from the public preposterous.

“This claim shows a complete misunderstanding and deliberate misrepresentation of Pennsylvania's comprehensive regulatory and permitting processes,” Burke wrote in an email.

He added that natural gas producers must notify local governments when they apply for drilling permits — all of which he said the company did.

Burke also said the property owners within 3,000 feet of the drilling location were invited to a meeting on Tuesday to share additional information on plans for the well and answer questions.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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