Impoundment hearing continued after testy testimony
Range Resources attorney Shawn Gallagher, background, argues with attorney Dwight Ferguson, foreground, during the zoning hearing Tuesday. The public hearing was held to decide whether the energy company was responsible for removing four water impoundments following the cessation of drilling operations in the township.
Aaron Kendeall / Observer-Reporter
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A zoning hearing regarding Range Resources’ use of four water impoundment facilities in Mt. Pleasant Township at times grew heated and was continued because residents did not have a chance to testify as it grew late.
“Why doesn’t Range tell everyone what they’re doing?” asked Dwight Ferguson, the attorney representing a number of residents affected by the impoundments. “This has become a tri-state water treatment facility. That’s what’s going on.”
Mt. Pleasant recently sent Range zoning permit violations for one fresh water and three used water impoundments near natural gas wells in the township after officials became aware the well pads closest to the sites stopped production. The municipality wanted the impoundments removed and restored.
Water impoundments are holding ponds for fresh water used in the hydraulic fracturing process and recycled water that will be reused. Natural gas is extracted from the Marcellus Shale formation by forcing large volumes of water laced with chemicals into the rock to release the gas, which is then pumped to the surface.
Zoning board members listened to testimony from Mt. Pleasant zoning officer Larry Chome and Brad Miller, Range water resource engineer.
Range attorney Shawn Gallagher argued the impoundments were not regulated by the township, but rather by the state Department of Environmental Protection. He argued the impoundments were a legal nonconforming use and did not count as a well pad accessory, therefore did not fall under the purview of the township ordinance.
Representatives from Range asserted the impoundments were being utilized by about 20 wells in nearby municipalities and that the company may utilize it for possible future drilling in Mt. Pleasant.
Range officials told the zoning board they had spent a total of about $5 million in building, maintaining and improving the facilities since the first one was built in 2007 and the cost to replace them would be about $2 million.
Gallagher and Range faced opposition from both Ferguson, who represented about seven families, and township solicitor Bill Johnson.
“I feel like I’m fighting two different fronts,” Gallagher said at one point in the proceedings when he faced multiple objections from both parties. “The Russian front and the Western front.”
As the two sides duked it out, zoning officer Barry Johnston reminded them how the issue had originally evolved.
“I think it’s about scope,” Johnston said about the case. “When this ordinance was written, we thought well pad and accessory use (such) as impoundments could fit in this room. We thought when these things came out onto our farms, it was not that big of a deal.
“As the situation is, we are, in a sense, overrun with magnitude … it’s the scope in terms of it happened without us even knowing about it – it just came upon us.”
The hearing was meant to include the testimony of residents, but the board wrapped up proceedings when it neared 10 p.m. The continued hearing will take place at 7 p.m. Sept. 10. The hearing will take place at either the fire department’s social hall on Main Street or at the township building on McCarrell Road.