ShareThis Page

Penn Twp. drilling hearing to go forward

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, 5:18 p.m.
File photo from 2015 of an Apex Energy gas drilling site in Penn Township.
File photo from 2015 of an Apex Energy gas drilling site in Penn Township.

A Penn Township zoning hearing will proceed as planned next week to consider approving an application by a local energy company to drill two gas wells, a Westmoreland County judge ruled Wednesday.

Common Pleas Judge Anthony Marsili said there was not enough evidence to grant a preliminary injunction sought by Protect PT, an environmental group, to prevent Huntley and Huntley of Monroeville from possibly receiving a special exception to drill fracking wells in a section of the township under the existing zoning law.

Gillian Graber, executive director of Protect PT, said her organization will participate in the Nov. 9 hearing.

“We haven't examined their application yet to see if we'll oppose it,” Graber said.

Protect PT has opposed similar applications from other drilling companies that successfully sought permits to build well pads in areas of the township zoned for agricultural and residential use.

Challenges to drilling permits issued to Apex by the township's zoning board are under appeal . Marsili heard arguments on those appeals this week and said he will issue a ruling before the end of the year.

The township's zoning code allows for special exemptions for industrial uses such as fracking in some overlay districts.

Protect PT has challenged the ordinance on constitutional grounds. Marsili will conduct a hearing on that lawsuit in January.

On Wednesday, the group sought to prevent Huntley and Huntley from proceeding with its application pending the outcome of that hearing in early 2018.

Huntley attorney Wayne Lucas argued that the injunction request should be denied because Protect PT's lawsuit is likely to fail.

“You can't grant a preliminary injunction based on the hope a law will be changed. The law is the law right now. To grant an injunction will be tantamount to a moratorium on drilling statewide,” Lucas said.

Ryan Hamilton, the attorney for Protect PT, argued the township's zoning law is unconstitutional and, as a result, no further applications for well sites should be heard until the courts weigh in on the case.

Hamilton presented one witness during Wednesday's hearing. Tom Daniels, a professor of city planning and zoning at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, testified that laws such as the one enacted in Penn Township are problematic.

Daniels said that to allow special zoning in a residential and agricultural district could harm the health and safety of residents.

“If Huntley and Huntley wells are approved, what's to prevent them and their other energy companies from coming back for more wells,” Daniels said.

Even if the company is granted permits to drill following next month's hearing, no construction will begin until at least April, Lucas said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.