Driller confronts Washington County crowd

| Thursday, April 7, 2011

Range Resources doesn't need Mt. Pleasant right now and could postpone drilling there for years if it can't get cooperation from township leaders, a company official told a standing-room-only crowd on Wednesday evening.

More than 400 people filled the Hickory Fire Hall in Washington County to hear a Range spokesman explain two letters company officials sent to residents in recent days.

The company has cleared three new sites for 16 wells, said company spokesman Jim Cannon, who showed aerial photographs of the sites off Menichi Lane, Agape Road and Bowen Road.

Drilling has been delayed for months and might not happen if the company and township can't reach an agreement, Cannon said.

"It's been floated out there that Range needs Mt. Pleasant more than Mt. Pleasant needs Range," he said, pointing out that the company controls 450,000 acres of mineral rights throughout Washington County.

"We can go drill somewhere else for a while. It would keep us busy for a few years. That's not the best option," Cannon said.

Range wants permission for trailers to house a supervisor on each drill site 24 hours a day and wants the township to reject a proposal to require special permission for each well, Cannon said.

He denied the company is trying to divide township residents but reiterated Range Resources' willingness to leave, a sentiment expressed in a letter this week.

Several residents admitted the community is divided; spectators broke into applause for speakers in favor of and against Range Resources.

Leaseholder Bob Hanes criticized the company for sending the letters, one to most residents explaining the company's cooperation with township officials. A second, sent to just 300 leaseholders, talked about leaving.

Hanes said he was disturbed, calling the second letter "somewhat extortion."

"I really don't think they're going to leave," he said after the meeting. "I think they're trying to bully their way in to get the ordinance the way they want it. I'm frustrated that after two years, the company and township officials can't come together."

The three township supervisors have proposed new zoning laws putting tighter restrictions on wells. Instead of allowing drilling by practice, as they do now, they want final approval on all wells.

Township officials did not speak at the meeting, which was organized by Range Resources as part of an effort to have public meetings to gain support for a set of zoning laws the company wrote and is asking the township and other communities to pass.

Cannon said Rice Drilling took legal action on Monday against nearby North Bethlehem over its zoning laws. The company filed a land-use appeal in county court seeking declaratory judgment, according to Washington County court records.

"There ain't no supervisor telling me what I can do on my property," said Mary Dalbo, a white-haired Cecil resident who got applause when she interrupted Cannon. "I go by Thomas Jefferson."

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