Lehman Twp. confronts drill issue

Municipality’s planning board has recommended approving a plan to drill a test gas well.

By Rory Sweeneyrsweeney@timesleader.com
Staff Writer

LEHMAN TWP. – After more than a year of rising interest in the Marcellus Shale just outside the county, Lehman Township supervisors will in January set the tone for natural-gas drilling in Luzerne County.

What’s Next

Lehman Township supervisors will vote at their Jan. 20 meeting on the conditional use proposal to drill a natural gas well. A public hearing will begin at 6 p.m., with the board meeting to follow.

On Monday evening, the township’s planning board recommended approving a plan to drill a test well at a Peaceful Valley Road site. The vote on the conditional use now goes before township supervisors at their Jan. 20 meeting, at which they will also consider local concerns about groundwater contamination and road damage.

“To the planning (board), it appeared that EnCana … answered those questions adequately,” said Raymond Iwanowski, the vice chairman of the board of supervisors, who was at Monday’s meeting. “As supervisors, we’re pretty united on this. We want to do it right.”

The plan was proposed jointly by Calgary, Canada-based EnCana Oil and Gas and Denver-based WhitMar Exploration Co., which are partnering on exploratory drilling in the county.

If indications from three test wells are positive, the companies plan to expand operations. If not, their leases put them under no further obligation.

Along with the Lehman site, they have identified single sites in Fairmount and Lake townships. Neither of those municipalities has planning boards, so consideration and recommendation of those plans transfer to the county’s planning commission, which is expected to address them on Jan. 5.

With environmental damages and health concerns in connection with gas drilling in Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, making news throughout the year, Iwanowski said groundwater protection is a “also an eye-opener than we have to be vigilant so that that doesn’t happen here,” though he noted that those issues involve a different gas company.

“There are other safeguards that EnCana and Chesapeake and other companies use to alleviate those problems,” he said. “I feel much better about the drilling process than I did a year ago. I was born in the coal mine era. What I don’t want is another coal-mine rape of the land and leave.”

EnCana isn’t without its environmental controversies. It’s currently the focus of an investigation into contaminated water supplies near gas drilling in Pavillion, Wyo.

To ease concerns locally, the drillers are going beyond state regulations. They’re performing baseline groundwater testing for properties within a mile of drilling sites and promise to remediate contamination caused by drilling.

Regarding roads, the company is willing to bond any road required by the township and make contributions for maintenance, said EnCana spokesman Doug Hock.

Copyright: Times Leader