Not making friends, influencing people

March 6, 2013

There’s an old saying that you can catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar. Some of the folks in the Marcellus Shale industry in our area seem to be straying further and further from that axiom.

The relationships between local elected officials and representatives of Range Resources have become especially fractious of late.

In Robinson Township, the gas driller has taken the township to court over supervisors’ refusal to approve applications for a couple of new operations there. Township officials say Range has not provided sufficient documentation for the proposed gas wells. Range says that’s simply not the case. What is the truth? We don’t know. Perhaps the court will be able to sort that out. But the level of vitriol, particularly on Range’s part, doesn’t help to resolve anything.

The latest exchange of harsh words occurred earlier this week in Cecil Township. Range sent one of its attorneys to the supervisors’ meeting, and he ended up berating township officials, essentially for cooperating with a request from the state Department of Environmental Protection to address the township’s concerns about a Range impoundment on Swihart Road.

The township’s attorney, William R. Miller, told the DEP in a letter that Range had failed to obtain proper approval for the initial construction and use of the impoundment, nor for its expanded use, and also did not provide the township with plans for it.

In part, the letter read, “Cecil Township understands that Range Resources originally constructed the Worstell Impoundment to serve gas wells on two well pads located beside the impoundment, but that Range Resources now desires to expand their use to serve wells located on other property and for general wastewater storage.”

As far as Range is concerned, that sort of cooperation with the agency that oversees gas-drilling operations in the state apparently is out of bounds.

“Why didn’t you just call and ask us?” said Range attorney Blaine A. Lucas. “The township has done nothing but stonewall our efforts.”

The fact that Range already has undertaken more than a few drilling operations in Cecil Township would seem to indicate that Lucas, to put it kindly, was twisting the truth.

He also noted that Range has filed a request with the state Office of Open Records to require the township to surrender any documents pertaining to the impoundment issue and the hiring of Miller as counsel.

“You won’t find it in any meeting minutes. I looked,” Lucas said. “You, as a board, are running amok.”

This kind of language certainly doesn’t bode well for future relations between the parties, but township officials have the right, at least currently, to use existing zoning laws to make sure citizens are well-served by any decisions made about gas drilling in their backyards.

The gas industry had hoped to change that with Act 13, but the state Commonwealth Court threw a monkey wrench into those efforts by striking down the zoning provisions of the new gas-drilling law. The matter is now before the state Supreme Court, and we have expressed before our hope that the high court upholds the prior ruling, which found that the law’s zoning provisions were unconstitutional because they prevented municipalities from controlling drilling operations through use of their own regulations.

While we always have recognized the great economic benefits of natural gas drilling in our region, there must be limits on how the drilling companies can operate, and dispatching attorneys who browbeat local officials benefits no one.

Drilling companies should not be allowed to run roughshod over local elected officials. If Range or any other drilling company is not satisfied with the decisions of township supervisors, they can seek redress in the courts, as Range has in the Robinson case. But the company should show some respect for those chosen by the residents of the townships to look out for their best interests.

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