Gas firm looks to hearing on 10 new well permits

Those against Encana Oil & Gas plans ponder appeals for permits already granted.

By Steve
Staff Writer

As Encana Oil & Gas officials await a hearing next month on zoning permits for 10 new natural gas wells in Luzerne County, gas-drilling opponents are contemplating a second appeal for permits that already have been issued to the company.

Encana recently filed applications with the Luzerne County Zoning Hearing Board seeking temporary-use permits and special exceptions for drilling five natural gas wells and height variances for building a gas processing facility at a site nestled between Loyalville, Hickory Tree and Meeker roads in Lake Township.

The company also applied for the same types of permits for drilling wells on two properties in Fairmount Township – two wells on a site northeast of the intersection of state routes 487 and 118, and three wells on adjoining land to the northeast.

The zoning hearing board has scheduled a hearing for 7 p.m. Aug. 3 to hear testimony on those applications.

The Lake Township site, owned by 4P Realty of Blakely, is about 600 acres. The two Fairmount Township sites consist of 13 parcels – some owned by William Kent of Benton and others owned by Jeffrey Hynich of Lake Township – spanning nearly 480 acres. They are referred to as the Red Rock/Benton Gas Consortium Lands in a lease with Encana.

Encana would move forward with drilling wells on those properties if two exploratory wells in Lake and Fairmount townships prove successful.

Drilling on the Fairmount Township property of Edward Buda is expected to begin within five to 10 days, Encana spokeswoman Wendy Wiedenbeck said.

Encana won zoning approval for drilling on a Lehman Township property owned by Russell W. Lansberry and Larry Lansberry in April but withdrew the application last week – less than a month after township residents Dr. Tom Jiunta, Brian and Jennifer Doran and Joseph Rutchauskas filed an appeal of the zoning approval in county court.

Rutchauskas said on Tuesday that attorneys for the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition are checking into the possibility of appealing the issuance of zoning permits about two weeks ago for Lake Township property owned by Amy and Paul Salansky on which Encana plans to begin drilling later this summer.

The county zoning hearing board approved the permit applications for the Salansky property in May.

Rutchauskas said he was told by a zoning official that it was too late to file an appeal on the Salansky permits because one must be filed within 30 days of the zoning hearing board’s decision.

“We’re having lawyers check into the timeframe of when the permits were approved and when they were issued. Our stance is that the 30-day timeframe is from the day the permits were issued, not from the day they were approved,” Rutchauskas said.

He said the permits could not be issued until the board received several response plans from Encana, such as a traffic management plan and an emergency response plan.

Eight permits for the Salansky property were issued on June 25 – the same day Encana submitted the plans – and two more were issued on June 28, according to zoning office records.

Rutchauskas said there’s no way zoning officials could have reviewed all the plans the same day, and the permits should not have been issued until the plans were thoroughly reviewed.

“How can you issue a permit without reading the required plans? You can put a Superman comic book in there and they wouldn’t know the difference. Do it slow, take your time, at least open them. I’ve been going through those books almost eight hours,” Rutchauskas said.

Luzerne County Planner Pat Dooley said officials are checking into how an appeal can be filed on the issuance of a zoning permit.

Dooley said he’s not aware of anyone ever appealing the issuance of a zoning permit, only the approval of a permit.

Copyright: Times Leader