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Plum/Oakmont

Plum OKs fracking in rural, industrial zones

Dillon Carr
| Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, 10:33 p.m.
Plum resident Matt Vento addresses the borough council on Monday about his fracking concerns.
Dillon Carr | Tribune-Review
Plum resident Matt Vento addresses the borough council on Monday about his fracking concerns.

Plum council approved an ordinance Monday that allows fracking in rural residential and industrial zones despite opposition from residents and a nationally backed effort to delay the vote.

The borough's zoning ordinance, which covers all aspects of land use in Plum, was last updated in 1993. It previously allowed fracking — a process of extracting gas by injecting rock with high-pressure water, sand and chemicals — in all zones with a conditional use permit.

The new ordinance limits fracking to rural residential and industrial zones, with the permit.

Before casting the lone dissenting vote, outgoing Council­man Dave Vento motioned to amend the proposed ordinance to limit fracking to industrial zones. His motion did not receive a second, so the motion failed and council voted, 6-1, to approve the ordinance.

About 150 residents for and against the proposed ordinance attended, and 18 addressed council. Of those who spoke, nine were in favor and nine were opposed. Some supporters donned blue T-shirts emblazoned with “Natural Gas Supporter.”

“I assure you if my family, my property, myself is damaged in any way — I promise you — I will sue anyone and everyone that had anything to do with (drilling),” resident Janet Mazotta said before a heated exchange with council President Mike Doyle, who advised her to stop talking because her three-minute time limit was up.

“In fairness to everyone else, ma'am, you're not going to stand there and read something you can give us the website on the internet and we can read ourselves,” he said, as she kept reading. “Keep it up ma'am, you'll be escorted out.”

Others were less impassioned.

“If this is such a dangerous, dangerous thing to do this, why are there 182 frack wells in Plum right now, as we speak? Fracking is nothing new,” said resident Steve Taylor, referring to conventional wells that also incorporate a fracturing technique to withdraw oil and gas from the ground.

Council members were quiet on sharing their thoughts, but outgoing councilman Michael Dell encouraged residents to get involved in environmental advocacy groups to collect scientific data on oil and gas well activity in the future.

“Take monthly samples and present that to federal and state agencies. Because right now we haven't seen any scientific data that Plum Creek is polluted by the wells that are currently in Plum,” Dell said. “We haven't seen any evidence on air quality in Plum.”

Daniel Laird, a Democrat who lost the election for a Plum council seat in November, presented council and borough officials with the results of an online petition urging council to pass an ordinance to prevent oil and gas drilling in rural residential zones. He said 1,006 residents signed the petition.

Laird was part of a concerted effort that included activists from surrounding communities and a Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy group to delay Monday's vote. Food and Water Watch of Western Pennsylvania called on Plum officials Friday to delay the vote because it alleged officials are hiding information from the public.

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

Mayor Rich Hrivnak joined the opposition in the days leading up to Monday's vote recording a statement that was distributed through an automated phone call system funded by Food and Water Watch.

“Only you can protect Plum from fracking, preserve your property values, and the quality of life in residential neighborhoods,” Hrivnak said in the recording. He urged residents to come to Monday's meeting and to call the borough to express opposition.

Food and Water Watch of Western Pennsylvania's Doug Shields said his records show 45 calls were placed to the borough over the weekend. Plum borough officials said the office phone had 17 messages Monday from residents who expressed opposition over the weekend.

Huntley & Huntley, which is developing its Midas well on 92 acres near Coxcomb Hill Road, did its own recruitment prior to Monday's meeting by mailing post cards to leaseholders, urging them to attend and speak.

Huntley & Huntley Vice President Paul Burke, who attended the meeting but did not speak, said he was pleased but not surprised by the vote.

Vento also said he wasn't surprised by the way his fellow council members voted.

“But I still live here,” Vento said after the meeting. “I'll still be involved with the fighting against wells.”

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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