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Range Sues One Pennsylvania Township, Awaits Another's Next Move

Range Resources Corp. has filed suit against a Pennsylvania township, alleging that the municipality violated state meetings law by not giving proper notice before making sweeping, prohibitive changes to its Marcellus Shale drilling ordinance.

Meanwhile, Range's challenge of a second township's ordinance before a local zoning board has been postponed until November after two board members were asked to recuse themselves due to a conflict of interest.

Kenneth Komorowski -- an attorney with the Pittsburgh branch of law firm Fulbright & Jaworski LLP who is representing Range in both matters -- filed a notice of appeal of procedural validity against Cecil Township in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County last Tuesday (Case No. C-63-CV-201107400).

According to court documents, Range alleges that Cecil Township violated the state's Municipal Planning Code and the Second Class Township Code on at least three occasions when it failed to advertise a Sept. 6 hearing. At that meeting the township changed the well setback requirement in its Oil and Gas Ordinance, from 1,500 feet from residential developments to 500 feet from all structures.

"A purportedly adopted ordinance passed in violation of these [state] provisions is void," the appeal states, adding that the setback change "is substantial because by excluding land surrounding nonresidential structures from drilling, the township may have decreased the amount of land available for drilling. These substantial amendments to the Oil and Gas Ordinance, both before and after the Sept. 6 meeting, required the township to readvertise the proposed ordinance with a summary of the changes."

Range is also challenging a drilling ordinance that was enacted in South Fayette Township, located in southwest Allegheny County. The company appealed to the township's three-member zoning board in August to resolve the issue, but added that it was prepared to take the township to court if the matter wasn't resolved (see Shale Daily, Aug. 18).

During a township zoning board hearing last Wednesday, South Fayette solicitor Jonathan Kamin reportedly filed a motion asking two of the board's three members to recuse themselves because they allegedly own natural gas leases. Kamin also reportedly asked an alternate member of the board to recuse himself as well because he is an employee of EQT Corp.

Kamin was quoted by the Chartiers Valley Patch as saying South Fayette Township "[believes] that three of four zoning board members have a conflict of interest in the hearing. It's the only way to have a fair and impartial hearing on this matter."

Komorowski reportedly countered that Range "[considers] this board to be fair and impartial. You check your personal interests at the door as the board routinely has."

Kamin also reportedly filed two additional motions, urging the zoning board to deny Range's challenge to the drilling ordinance. He also said Range had not filed the proper paperwork to proceed with its challenge.

After meeting in executive session for about 15 minutes, the zoning board decided to postpone the hearing until Nov. 9. The board also gave Range 15 days to provide written responses to each of the motions.

Kamin, Komorowski and Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella could not be reached for comment Monday.

Range is also involved in an ordinance dispute with Mt. Pleasant Township, which is also in Washington County (see Shale Daily, June 28). Under terms of that ordinance, a driller would need approval from the township's three-member board for all new natural gas wells, and supervisors could also impose conditions on a driller. Range had attempted mediation with Mt. Pleasant before the ordinance went into effect (see Shale Daily, April 18; April 13).

Range earlier this year announced that it was selling its Barnett Shale properties for $900 million, with the Marcellus to get the lion's share of the company's 2011 capital budget (see Shale Daily, March 2).

According to NGI's Shale Daily, Range currently holds approximately 1.05 million net acres in the Marcellus, second only to Chesapeake Energy, which holds approximately 1.75 million net acres. Rounding out the top five net acreage holders in the play are Consol Energy with 750,000, Seneca Resources with 745,000 and Chevron with 714,000.

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