Officials in Robinson Township, PA, told leaseholders that they were welcome to contact Range Resources Corp. and try to convince the company to reapply for two Marcellus Shale drilling permits the township denied in February.
Brian Coppola, chairman of the Robinson Township Board of Supervisors, told NGI's Shale Daily that the room was full for Monday's board meeting, with many leaseholders in attendance.
"We had a pretty frank discussion with them about how the approval process for the permits works," Coppola said Wednesday. "We also talked about the other drillers that are in the township and what we approved for them."
Last September, Range filed permit applications with the township to drill two wells targeting the Marcellus. Hearings were scheduled for the fall and decisions expected by January. But the company filed suit in Washington County Court of Common Pleas on Jan. 28, alleging the township was delaying the approval process. The township denied both permit applications on Feb. 11.
"The leaseholders asked us if they could contact Range and see if we can work something out," Coppola said. "We were pretty clear that there's no reason they can't contact Range, and that Range can't come back in and reapply for those two well pads. "We really had no problem with the location of the pads or some of the things that they wanted to do, it's just that there's a format and there's a procedure that they have to follow with the paperwork and they just didn't do it. That is really the only reason we denied them."
Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella told NGI's Shale Daily that the company would not reapply, and was confident that it would prevail at the county court.
"We're confident that it's going to work itself out, but we can't go back through the process of reapplying and starting this all over," Pitzarella said Wednesday. "Put yourself in our situation. We start again and then what? Six months later they reject our permits again? We just can't have that kind of uncertainty. It's unfortunate. Nobody wants to see these things tied up in the legal system. That's not a particularly fast moving process.
"Some people would treat this story as though the township is just trying to go about their business and we're being overly aggressive and 'lawyer-happy.' But this particular township has been involved in multiple multi-year lawsuits with several gas drilling companies, not just Range. They've been involved in lawsuits with gas drilling since it's began in that township. For some reason, this one is treated uniquely."
Coppola said Range approached the township with a study that showed the company would be in violation of Robinson's sound ordinance in residential areas. He added that the township urged the company to redo the study and come back with ways to mitigate the noise, perhaps with a sound wall.
"They refused," Coppola said of Range. "We told the leaseholders [on Monday] that there was no way the board could have approved something after [Range] came in and showed that they would violate the ordinance. There was just no way to do it. If we were to approve either one of those pads, we would be breaking the law to do it. And I think the leaseholders understood that."
Coppola said Range had also declined to submit a site plan for the two wells.
"The last time Range came in, they made an application and were granted permission to drill in a commercial zoning district," Coppola said. "Now they've come in and they want to drill in a residential area. The standards are going to be a little tighter and we're going to need a little more information. And since they're now using township roads, instead of state roads, obviously we're going to need more information on the truck traffic and the noise."
Pitzarella agreed that Range had no problems applying for similar permits two years ago, but said the company had actually submitted three to four times the amount of information the township had requested for the latest two permit applications.
"We submitted probably upwards of 1,000 pages of documentation, being very clear as to all of the specifics that our operations would entail," Pitzarella said. "Late last year, there were no further questions or comments from the township, and the hearing officially concluded. But then they turned around on us a couple months later and said they wanted to extend this longer, and didn't provide any real reasons.
Pitzarella added that the company had leases in Robinson Township that were approaching their expiration date. He said the company keeps in regular contact with its leaseholders.
"We have to plan a lot of these issues years in advance, whether that be to develop a lease before it expires or to meet production targets or to produce gas," Pitzarella said. "Unfortunately we have run into a situation in Robinson where, as they have done in the past, they have been delaying this process endlessly."
Robinson Township is at the forefront of a legal challenge mounted by municipal governments against the state and Act 13, Pennsylvania's omnibus Marcellus Shale law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is weighing whether to uphold or overturn an appellate court ruling that said portions of Act 13 were unconstitutional on the grounds that its limits on local zoning violate municipalities' right to substantive due process (see Shale Daily, Oct. 18, 2012; July 27, 2012). The case is Robinson Township et al v. Commonwealth et al, (No. 284-MD-2012).
Kevin Moody, general counsel for the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, told NGI's Shale Daily that it was unlikely the state Supreme Court would rule on the Robinson case before June at the earliest.
"It would be pretty amazing because there are about 10 amicus briefs filed on either side, in addition to the three briefs from the parties," Moody said Wednesday. "That's a lot to go through."