Upper Burrell eyes options to ease drilling concerns
Upper Burrell supervisors are evaluating possible steps to address residents' concerns about gas and oil drilling in the township.
Since the township lost three zoning cases to Penneco, including one on Hartge Road in February, several residents have demanded that township officials take action to prevent drilling from occurring in residential areas.
Angelcrest Drive resident Ron Slabe suggested hiring a legal consultant who specializes in gas and oil law to assist township Solicitor Steve Yakopec.
Slabe said he was not criticizing Yakopec's performance, but rather acknowledging the uphill battle a small township has against energy companies that often have large legal teams.
“The deck is stacked against us and against you,” Slabe told Yakopec.
“I believe I know what I'm doing,” Yakopec said. “I've been a solicitor since 1985.
“If I need help, I'll put my hand up.”
Resident Tom Baker, a former township supervisor who works for Penneco, objected: “Steve is more than qualified. We've spent too much money on this already.”
Supervisors Chairman Ross Walker said he's not opposed to the idea. He noted that the township has been advised by Slabe's suggested consultant, attorney John M. Smith, in the past.
However, Walker said, a more pressing issue is fixing errors that were made in the township's drilling ordinance when the laws were codified, or organized and bound by a publisher.
When supervisors updated their drilling ordinance in 2011, they prohibited drilling in residential zones.
However, when the ordinances were codified, the wording of the drilling ordinance was inadvertently changed to indicate drilling is permitted in residential zones.
Supervisors plan to have a work session soon to make a list of any errors made during the publishing process and determine how they can be fixed. Yakopec said the publisher might be able to reprint specific pages to correct the errors.
Until those errors are corrected, Yakopec said, the codified version is the legal version of the ordinances.
He said no drilling permits have been issued in residential zones as a result of the errors.
He said the most recent Penneco case on Hartge Road was a matter of the zoning hearing board determining that drilling was a pre-existing, nonconforming legal use at that site.
Because wells had been drilled on the property since the early 1990s when there were no drilling prohibitions in residential zones, the new wells were “grandfathered” as part of an ongoing use.
Regardless of any new laws the supervisors may pass, Yakopec said, the township likely will face that situation again because there are many older, conventional wells in Upper Burrell.
“I can't tell you that will always happen,” Yakopec said. “It depends on the facts (of each case).”
Residents were critical of the fact that Yakopec did not seek a court injunction to stop Penneco from drilling on Hartge Road before the zoning hearing board ruled and before a township permit was issued. A Penneco representative previously said the company's attorneys felt the township improperly withheld the permit and that they had a strong legal case to proceed.
Yakopec said he reviewed the situation and felt an injunction would not be granted. Furthermore, he said, the township would have risked sanctions if a judge deemed Yakopec improperly asked for an injunction.
Yakopec said the township can pursue fining Penneco $500 for failing to obtain a zoning certificate before beginning work.
Baker said he's tired of what he believes is a minority of township residents swaying supervisors to do battle with the drilling industry.
“These five people don't represent the whole community,” he said. “They are attacking a mainstay in the community.”
Baker said environmentalists have painted a bleak picture of potential hazards from drilling, but “the only thing that's happened is prosperity.”
Slabe said he's not trying to stop drilling; he just wants to ensure the industry is regulated and follows the rules.
Rose Ann Dombroski, a Hillview Drive resident upset by the Hartge Road project, said she doesn't object to drilling but doesn't think companies should be able to operate at night.
“I know I need gas. I know I need electricity,” Dombroski said. “I don't need them to drill overnight, every night, for six weeks straight.
“It's not like I'm asking them for the moon,” she said. “I'm asking for a little peace and quiet.”
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
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.
- Police: Body found beneath Tarentum Bridge is jumper
- All in favor of sewage accord between Allegheny Valley authority, regulators
- Nonprofit prepares school supplies
- Fire victim’s ex-boyfriend jumps from Tarentum Bridge
- Food a big draw for Festa Italiana lovers in New Kensington
- 90-degree weather took vacation from Western Pa. in July
- Calm and quick Leechburg bank robber sought
- Harrison woman burned in trailer fire
- A-K Valley public pools deal with deficits, repair costs, lower attendance
- Haiti native teaches Creole to missionaries at Zion United Methodist Church
- Marine recalls Saigon: April 30, 1975 — the day the U.S. Embassy closed