Penn township fracking battle continues in court

The battle over fracking in Penn Township returned to a Westmoreland County courtroom Monday with residents discussing their experiences and fears about unconventional gas well drilling.

“We were told that we would not be affected by drilling,” said Tracey Mason, who lives near Apex Energy's Quest well pad in the northeast corner of the township.

She described noise like a “jet engine” keeping her family up at all hours and driving through a fog of dust kicked up by drilling.

This week's testimony is expected to conclude Tuesday. Experts on both sides of the issue testified before Westmoreland County Judge Harry Smail last month.

Local environmental group Protect PT challenged the township's zoning ordinance, which allows hydraulic fracturing wells in both industrial and rural-zoned areas. The anti-fracking group contends wells should be limited to industrial zones.

Protect PT called 10 of its members as witnesses Monday to talk about why they oppose fracking. All live in or near the township, many near the Poseidon and Quest well pads, which are currently operating.

Other well pads are in various planning stages.

Noise, pollution and decreasing property values were top concerns.

“I like the fresh air that I've got right now,” resident Harold Baker said.

Resident Larry Irr said he's worried the sound-blocking barriers won't be enough to deaden the noise of drilling.

“It's like trying to stop the green giant with a playpen,” he said.

In addition to its own solicitor, the township is being represented by lawyers from Apex Energy and Huntley and Huntley Energy Exploration, which own the current and proposed fracking wells.

The township and energy companies are expected to call six witnesses Tuesday, including township employees who will focus on how the zoning ordinance was created, said Michael Korns, the Greensburg lawyer representing the township.

Korns said Monday's witnesses mostly focused on the two operating well pads — both of which are located in industrial zones. The Quest wells were drilled before the zoning ordinance was implemented.

Protect PT has opposed all fracking wells, no matter where they are located, he said.

“I think what Protect PT really wants is a total ban on oil and gas drilling in the township,” he said.

Previous Pennsylvania court cases have ruled fracking need not be limited to industrial zones, but Protect PT has argued that it is an inherently industrial process unsuited to residential or rural areas.

Smail will ultimately decide whether the zoning ordinance stays or goes.

No matter his decision, Smail has ruled that it will not impact the White, Draftina and Beattie well pads, all of which are in development and which were approved last year in a settlement after Apex sued the township for $300 million for rejecting the pads.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646, jtierney@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Soolseem.

Posted: 06-04-2018

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