Robinson leaseholders anxious for natural gas drilling to start

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Steve Duran’s Robinson Township farm has been in his family for three generations, and he hopes to pass the property on to his daughter.


But unless natural gas drilling take place on his property, Duran doubts that will be possible.


Duran and nearly 40 other natural gas leaseholders in Robinson Township met this week to discuss the benefits of gas drilling and their frustration that the industry has stalled in Robinson, even though it’s a prime location for the prized “wet gas” that extraction companies want.


Without royalties from natural gas drilling, property owners say they are unable to replace aging farming equipment, pay fuel costs or their taxes. Without the industry, people have to move from the area because jobs are in short supply.


“We really need something here, and I think this is our shot,” said Duran, a combat medic during two tours of duty in Iraq.


Township supervisors have yet to act on two drilling applications from Range Resources filed in September. Officials met on the applications in November and December but claim the applications contain insufficient material to meet their ordinances.


Supervisor Brian Coppola said they are not holding up drilling in the township. The township has never denied a drilling permit, he said. Three wells were drilled in Robinson in 2010.


Range Resources has filed a lawsuit asking Washington County Court to force the township to act on the applications.


Feeling that only negative stories on drilling are consistently reported, those who spoke have not experienced environmental difficulties but see many benefits to the area.


John Campbell believes misinformation is spread from stories online.


“If you read on the Internet about your medical problems, you think you’re going to die tomorrow. It’s like that,” he said.


Some, such as Richard and Bonnie Moore, who have Range drilling a well on their Smith Township farm and MarkWest laying pipeline there and on their Robinson Township farm, say the industry is well regulated compared to strip mining done on their land six years ago.


Calling the companies “top notch” because they don’t cut corners, Bonnie Moore said the state Department of Environmental Protection closely watches over the work.


“We love the land, and we wouldn’t want to hurt it in any way,” she said.


Four of Put Foley’s grandchildren now work in the Marcellus Shale industry, and three of them were able to purchase houses this year.


“They couldn’t have done that working for Burger King,” he said.


A seller of drill bits, Jim Shoup noted gas drilling is just the beginning of a process that will ultimately bring manufacturing back to the region and put chemical and plastic plants along the area’s rivers.


“The royalties are nothing. It’s what is coming later,” he said.


And Chris Kramer sees another side to odors such as those associated with a coal washer that once operated in Robinson.


“It was an inconvenience, but it was the smell of people working,” he said.


As for the application process, Judy Kramer, who once served on the township planning commission, said the commission worked with engineering firms and the state planning commission in order to set forth a strict set of guidelines. It would be tragic, she said, if the community lost its voice to the state regulating the industry under Act 13.


“We were able to put in so many regulations it made me feel safe for my family, for all of our families,” she said.


Coppola said those ordinances remain in effect, and nothing has changed with the conditional-use process.


The next board of supervisors meeting is at 7 p.m. Feb. 11. Coppola said he wished those who have questions would come and speak out. Many residents said Wednesday night they plan to attend.


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