Range Resources is asking a Washington County judge to recuse himself from hearing a lawsuit involving the gas drilling company because the judge’s wife was involved in a group that attempted to ban drilling in Peters Township.
Range on Wednesday requested Judge John F. DiSalle to recuse himself from its lawsuit against Robinson Township because DiSalle’s wife, Diane, was involved with the Peters Township Marcellus Shale Awareness Group.
DiSalle said he was inclined to deny the request but planned to speak with his colleagues first. The PTMSA collected more than 2,400 signatures to have a referendum placed on the November 2011 ballot to amend Peters Township’s home rule charter. It would have prohibited gas drilling and related gas drilling activity, such as the installation of pipelines and compressor stations. The measure was defeated at the polls.
In an affidavit, Range’s spokesman Matt Pitzarella noted that in the summer of 2011, Diane DiSalle, who lives nearby, had knocked on his door and asked him to sign a petition for a drilling ban. He spoke with her for three hours before she left.
Pitzarella also claimed to have seen an anti-drilling sign in the couple’s yard prior to the election. DiSalle said they never had such a sign in their yard, although their neighbor did.
In addition, the Marcellus shale awareness group is listed under Pennsylvania’s Department of State business entity filings as being “owned” by Diane DiSalle. The group maintains a Facebook page but that page indicates the group was dissolved Feb. 2.
Range is suing Robinson Township for failing to allow the company to begin gas operations on two properties it had leased for gas drilling. The company filed its lawsuit against the township on Jan. 28, even before township supervisors voted to deny the gas extraction company two permits to drill for gas on the Parees and Kendall properties. The board cited the company’s insufficient documents as its reasons for the denial.
In its suit, Range contends the township has fabricated a number of issues, including the board’s “befuddlement” over the number of wells the company wishes to drill and its site plan. Range also opposed attorney John Smith from acting as the township’s counsel and hearing officer. Smith later recused himself and Jonathan Kamin now represents the township on gas drilling issues.
Range claims the township has acted in bad faith and its failure to comply with sections in the state’s Municipalities Planning Code means the conditional use Range is seeking has been approved.