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PA Court Orders $5M-Plus Bond For Drilling Opponent Appeal to Advance

In another land-use victory for Denver-based Inflection Energy LLC and other Pennsylvania shale drillers, a common pleas court judge has ordered a drilling opponent to post a nearly $6 million bond to proceed with an appeal against the company's development plans.

Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas Judge Brendan Vanston earlier this month ordered the opponent to post the $5.69 million bond, saying the objection to a well pad in a residential-agricultural zoning district was "frivolous."

Similar to a lengthy fight involving Inflection that unfolded between this year and last, six miles to the east in Fairfield Township, the company was granted a conditional use permit in Loyalsock Township for a well pad site in a residential-agricultural district. Drilling opponents have argued the zones are not suitable for oil and gas development although they blanket much of the state.

An appeal to the permit was filed in the common pleas court, but Inflection filed for a petition for bond, arguing that the primary purpose of the appeal was to delay its development plans. The company asked that a bond be posted to compensate for such a delay if the appeal moves forward.

The law firm Babst Calland, which represents Inflection, said the appeal contained no allegations that the company failed to meet any of the requirements of the Loyalsock ordinance. The firm said the company presented two witnesses who testified that the unnamed objector had said that the appeal was brought only to delay development of the well pad. Documents for the case were not immediately available from the rural court.

In September, a Pennsylvania appellate court upheld a conditional use permit issued by Fairfield Township to allow natural gas drilling to go forward in a residential area there, finding in a key ruling that such operations are compatible with residential zones (see Shale DailySept. 15). Homeowners in the area had filed an appeal against Inflection's permit with the common pleas court, which ruled in their favor and forced Inflection to suspend its operations in Fairfield until the appellate court overturned the lower court's ruling (see Shale DailySept. 4, 2014).

Until the appellate ruling, drilling opponents had filed similar land use challenges in at least five other counties across the state (see Shale DailyDec. 1, 2014). In the Loyalsock case, Vanston found that the appeal was frivolous on merits and ordered that the bond be posted no later than Dec. 4.

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