Plum gas drilling meeting opened to public after brief protest
A private meeting between officials from local municipalities, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the oil and gas industry was made public after a protest.
Members of Citizens 4 Plum and Protect PT (Penn-Trafford) rallied for a short time outside the Plum municipal building along New Texas Road Tuesday evening.
It was the site of an invitation-only panel discussion hosted by Monroeville-based Huntley & Huntley Energy Exploration.
“When you have industry and lobbyist, and lawyers, and regulators in a room together and the public wasn’t invited, we felt like that was a problem,” said Matt Kelso, resident and member of Citizens 4 Plum. “We were happy to be able to attend, and I think it was an informative session.”
Panellists included Allegheny Township Solicitor Bernard Matthews Jr., Marcellus Shale Coalition Technical Affairs Director Loren Anderson and Scott Perry, DEP deputy secretary of oil and gas management.
“We invited the municipal officials and staff in the communities that we will potentially be operating in,” Huntley & Huntley External Communications Director Kim Price said. “Those were communities both in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties. We found out that there was broader community interest. We were anticipating a little bit more attendance. The room was nice and full. This was the intention. All of the same topics were covered. We didn’t change anything (in the presentation as a result of the protests).”
Anderson went over some of the state laws that regulate the oil and gas well industry.
Act 13 of 2012 led to enhanced environmental standards, requirement of public notifications, permitting standards and an impact fee to name a few regulations.
“Act 13 was the first comprehensive re-write of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas act,” Anderson said. “It was necessary.”
He went on to talk about PennDOT permits for use of state roads as well as air emissions and inventory reporting.
“There are very strong state, federal and even local regulations on a variety of different activities that are necessary for oil and gas well development,” Anderson said.
Matthews talked about a case in which residents challenged Allegheny Township’s decision to open all zoning areas to fracking.
Several Allegheny Township residents who live in an area zoned R-2 agricultural/residential sued the township, its zoning hearing board, CNX Gas Co. and other township residents when a Marcellus shale gas well pad was approved in 2014 within 1,200 feet of their homes.
The gas well pad is on the property of a neighboring farm owned by John and Anne Slike and Northmoreland Farms LP, who were among the defendants in the case.
Matthews said the court ruled the township’s zoning ordinance amendment was valid, and farmers testified the royalties from the gas company were helpful. The state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.
He encouraged local lawmakers to do their homework prior to any zoning hearing board meetings when it comes to oil and gas well ordinance development.
“You’ve got to be prepared to bring forward the evidence of your legislative history, what you relied on in your public hearings and all of the reasons why you, as a community, decided this particular structure for our zoning ordinance was appropriate for our community,” Matthews said.
Perry also talked about various permits regarding oil and gas wells, and his agency’s efforts to protect the environment.
“Our primary concern is for the health and safety of Pennsylvania citizens and for the protection of our environment,” he said. “It’s not for the profitability of the oil and gas industry.”
Perry talked about transparency and how people can search oil and gas reports through the department’s website, dep.pa.gov.
Panelists also fielded several questions from the audience written on index cards. Some were specific to Huntley & Huntley. Price said she would give those to company officials to answer.
Protect PT Executive Director Gillian Graber was glad Huntley & Huntley opened its meeting to the public, but was disappointed her questions were not addressed.
“I think it’s important that our government officials and the people that they represent hear the same information,” she said. “I feel they weren’t as candid as they normally would have been with just the public officials here. I thought it was informative. None of the questions that I had were asked. We had a bunch.”
Perry encouraged people to contact DEP with any questions or environmental concerns. Those interested can call 717-783-9438 or email [email protected]
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .