County board speeds drilling for natural gas

At issue is tapping into Marcellus Shale in Fairmount and Lake townships.

By Rory
Staff Writer

WILKES-BARRE – After more than two hours of testimony on Tuesday night that mostly didn’t address the issues before the board, the Luzerne County Zoning Hearing Board unanimously approved temporary permits and special exception uses to develop natural-gas drilling sites in Fairmount and Lake townships, among the first in the county.

The board, however, placed several caveats on the approvals, including bonding for all roads used, sound and light control measures, and a prohibition on controlling dust on roads with water contaminated from the drilling process.

The two sites are located in municipalities that don’t have zoning boards, which is why the county board was involved.

In Lake, the site is on two properties on Zosh Road owned by Edward Farrell and Daniel Chorba. In Fairmount, the property just off state Route 118 east of Mossville Road and behind the Ricketts Glen Hotel is owned by Edward Buda.

The 12-month temporary permits will allow the well drilling and the storage of water used therein. The special exceptions allow the permanent existence of the well pad at the sites.

At least 50 people attended the hearing, speaking fervently both for and against the expansion of Marcellus Shale gas drilling into Luzerne County. However, board solicitor Stephen Menn warned throughout that most of those issues weren’t before the board.

“This board has very limited rights about what it can do with regards to gas and oil drilling,” he prefaced. “Your concerns are misdirected to us. They should be directed to your legislators.”

Board member Tony Palischak, who is involved with conservation groups, voiced concerns about drilling. “We’re a little skeptical because of all the hair-raising things,” he said, that have been reported in other drilling areas, including Dimock Township in Susquehanna County. A driller there has been fined and cited repeatedly for environmental abuses.

However, he approved the uses. “We have no alternative,” he said afterward. “It’s up to (the state Department of Environmental Protection) and (the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) to take it from here.”

Still, objectors from as far as Bethlehem noted water and air pollution concerns, along with damage to roads and congestion.

Others welcomed the economic opportunities, and at least one, Charles Kohl, was swayed when the Denver-based companies, WhitMar Exploration Co. and EnCana Oil and Gas (USA) Inc., announced their interest in leasing all properties in those townships.

The companies are also proposing a site in Lehman Township, which has its own zoning board.

Rory Sweeney, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7418.

Copyright: Times Leader