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Range Pulls Permit Applications For Wells Near Pennsylvania School

Range Resources Corp. has withdrawn three conditional-use permit applications in Washington County, PA, where it had planned to develop unconventional well pads near a school, in a move that environmentalists hailed as a victory and the company said was purely financial.

Environmental advocacy group PennFuture said the company withdrew the permit applications the morning before a hearing was scheduled for consideration before Mt. Pleasant Township officials. Citing safety concerns, some residents had emerged to oppose Range's bid to develop wells near the Fort Cherry school campus.

"Mt. Pleasant citizens got involved in the permitting process in order to exercise their constitutionally protected right to ensure their children will have clean air, land and water," said acting PennFuture President John Norbeck. "Natural gas drilling, with the accompanying truck traffic and diesel generators, is an industrial activity that does not belong near their homes and schools."

Range filed the permits in August for three well pads, two of which would have been built within a mile of the school. The township was required to hold the hearings as the area in question was a residential zone not permitted for oil and gas wells.

The challenge to those permits comes at a time when drilling opponents in several other counties in the state are claiming residential and agricultural zones are not suitable for shale gas wells (see Shale Daily, Dec. 1, 2014). Challenges have cropped up against local permits after a landmark state supreme court ruling in 2013 that gave municipalities more power  to change or enforce local zoning laws (see Shale Daily, Dec. 20, 2013).

Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the company's 2015 budget has been reduced by more than 40% because of falling commodity prices, and it chose to withdraw the applications temporarily on the reduced spending.

"Formally withdrawing the permit is part of the conditional-use process, which is not at all unusual," Pitzarella said. "However, we are actively drilling two other nearby locations and we're hopeful that the market is such that we can re-apply for these withdrawn permits next year," which is detailed in the company's letter to the township.

Pitzarella also noted that nearly all the township is leased for oil and gas development. And while he acknowledged that opposition had emerged over plans for the well pads near the school, he said many in the area also support natural gas development.

The local school district already has property leased, and it's indicated in the past that it plans to use the lease and royalty payments to help offset pension, medical and general budget costs.

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