A township in western Pennsylvania adopted a conditional use ordinance on Wednesday, the latest development in a kerfuffle with its dominant driller, Range Resources Corp.
Mt. Pleasant Township Supervisor Larry Grimm told NGI's Shale Daily that under the terms of the 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. He said the ordinance was modeled after similar measures in neighboring townships.
"Conditional use is not a big, bad bogeyman," Grimm said. "It allows us to streamline conditions on each individual well. The topography and population density changes from well to well. We would just like to have the control enough to make sure that things don't get out of hand.
"Most of the surrounding townships around us have conditional use, and Range works with them quite well. They have also had public meetings where they said they could live with conditional use. Now they say they can't. You have to draw your own conclusions."
Grimm said the township in Washington County, PA, has had "some problems" with Range since it arrived five years ago. He said the Fort Worth, TX-based company had 105 natural gas wells in the township, tapping into the Marcellus Shale. He also said Range was the only driller operating there.
"We've been at loggerheads for five years," Grimm said. "They came in here like a gang of outlaws out of Texas. They were going to do things their way and they didn't care because that's what they did in Texas. It just went downhill from there. It just kept getting worse and now we're at this point here."
Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the ordinance caught the company completely by surprise. "We found out about the ordinance and the vote the day prior when another reporter saw the public notice and called me," Pitzarella told NGI's Shale Daily. "We've not seen the ordinance and have requested a copy."
In April Range accepted an offer by Mt. Pleasant to participate in mediation talks with Donald Ziegler -- a retired federal and county judge specializing in dispute resolution -- in an attempt to resolve their differences (see Shale Daily, April 18; April 13).
Grimm said the two sides discussed the timeline for implementing the conditional use ordinance but did not talk about a secondary issue over an existing township law prohibiting workers from sleeping where they work. Range had run afoul of the law and wanted foremen to be allowed to sleep in trailers at well sites.
"We had given them the foreman trailers and had made an agreement to shorten the timeline on the conditional use," Grimm said, adding that Pitzarella's assertion that the company did not know about the ordinance vote was "absolutely untrue."
"When we left mediation [Judge Ziegler] said give them seven days, that within seven days they ought to be able to have a written response to this proposal," Grimm said. "As of the night of the meeting it had been over 30 days and we had no response from them. Our township manager had sent them several e-mails and they knew quite well that we were going to vote on it at that meeting. They knew it was happening and they had the ordinance for months. They have a strange way with the truth."
Pitzarella said Range wanted local communities to have standards but they needed to be predictable.
"It was our understanding that a summary from the mediation we recently agreed to would be shared with both the township and Range, which we would all review and formally agree to and that would serve as the basis for the new ordinance," Pitzarella said. "We've never received that information, and we've not had any real communication with the township since the mediation. Our attorneys have exchanged e-mails here and there, but nothing significant."
Pitzarella hinted that the company could pull out of the township.
"It's disheartening that the township could not respect the mediation process, and that makes us very reluctant to make two-year-out operation plans based on a permitting process that we can't predict from a township who just went back on their word," Pitzarella said. "So in many ways, the chapter has closed. Perhaps that situation will change some time down the road, but for now we will finish the wells we have in progress and fulfill our commitments."
Range had threatened to leave Mt. Pleasant over the issue of the foreman trailers (see Shale Daily, April 11).
"They have contacted their leaseholders and have told them to flood our meetings and tell us that we shouldn't be imposing these restrictions," Grimm said. "They have just about all of the property in the township leased. But they're doing this in the surrounding townships and they're not complaining.
"This is a personal vendetta that they have going."