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Penn Township approves natural gas drilling despite protest

| Thursday, April 20, 2017, 10:12 p.m.
Tribune-Review
Members of activist group Protect PT announce a challenge to Penn Township's fracking ordinance at a demonstration at the township municipal building Wednesday, April 19, 2017.

Penn Township commissioners agreed to lease the subsurface rights for about 29 acres to Huntley and Huntley Inc., allowing the energy company to drill for gas deep beneath township-owned land.

Huntley & Huntley will pay the township $2,000 per acre — about $57,000 total — up front. The township also will earn 15 percent royalties on any natural gas the company finds on the properties.

The deal includes four parcels. The largest — 21.1 acres — is located near Huntley & Huntley's proposed Poseidon well pad on Snyder Road. Three other small lots are located throughout the township.

Edward Sullivan, chairman of the township commissioners, called the deal a “win-win,” that takes advantage of inevitable drilling activity.

“If we don't participate, we get nothing from an operation that is going to happen whether or not we participate,” he said.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the lease. Commissioner Jeff Shula abstained because he has relatives who work for Huntley & Huntley.

Members of Protect PT, a local organization that has fought against fracking in the township, opposed the agreement.

“We feel that it is a conflict of interest to vote on something that they would then profit from, but with everything that's been going on it's not a surprise,” said Protect PT President Gillian Graber.

Sullivan said the decision was not a conflict because Huntley and Huntley has received approval from the township zoning hearing board, and the well pad is allowed under the zoning ordinance.

“We do not oppose natural gas drilling,” he said.

Commissioners voted on the lease Wednesday, hours after Protect PT announced a legal challenge to the township's zoning ordinance.

The lease is only for subsurface rights to the land, which is used for storm water management. Huntley & Huntley will not be allowed to build any structures on the properties. Instead, it will be drilling for gas deep underground, most likely 7,000-9,000 feet below the surface, said Paul Burke, general counsel for Huntley and Huntley.

The lease expires after 10 years if the company does not drill but otherwise lasts for the life of the well.

The company has applied for approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection for its Poseidon pad, but it has yet to receive the permits it needs to begin construction and drilling, Burke said.

Huntley & Huntley operates about 450 traditional shallow gas wells in the region, some of which are in Penn Township. The Poseidon pad will be the company's first unconventional fracking well in the township, and others likely will be proposed in the future, Burke said.

The township leases some of its land to gas companies for traditional shallow wells, Sullivan said.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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