Penn Twp. drilling hearing to go forward
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.