Environmental concerns cited again as Pittsburgh suburb rejects another shale gas permit

Environmental concerns cited again as Pittsburgh suburb rejects another shale gas permit

Editor’s note: This story is part of our series Clearing the Air about shale gas drilling in Penn Township. PublicSource has followed the events there since April 2015. We placed air quality sensors at five homes to monitor pollutants near the contested well pad for two months. The data collected are being analyzed. PublicSource will share the results with residents and report on what we found. Sign up for our newsletter to ensure you receive our next story on this issue.

For the second time in a month a zoning board in Penn Township — a rural suburb about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh — has rejected a request for a small drilling company to construct a shale gas site.

“The applicant has failed to adequately demonstrate that the drill site operations will not violate the environmental rights of the citizens…” the decision for the Draftina Central Pad-31 states.

The driller, Wexford-based Apex Energy, has requests in with township officials to permit a total of seven well pads in the community, an area that has remarkably remained untouched by the shale gas industry up until last year when the company drilled the first two shale gas wells.

Shale development in the area has been a hotly contested issue among residents, township officials and the drillers that want to set up shop. (Read PublicSource’s in-depth story about the community’s struggles.)

Penn Township sits directly next to Salem Township in Westmoreland County, where a transmission pipeline exploded on April 29 damaging several homes, searing 40 acres and critically burning one man.

“The board came to the reasonable conclusion that it was not provided enough information about risk and so was unable to make the kind of well informed decision it is constitutionally obliged to make,” said Oday Salim, an attorney with Pittsburgh-based Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services, which represented Protect PT during the hearing for the site. Protect PT is a nonprofit group against drilling near homes in Penn Township.

The company has 30 days to appeal the decision in court. Apex CEO Mark Rothenberg told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the company will make a decision whether they’ll appeal after reviewing the zoning board’s decision.

Last week, Apex filed an appeal in Westmoreland County court for another shale site the zoning board hearing rejected in April.

According to The Trib, that appeal contends that the zoning board “arbitrarily rejected the company’s request” and that the board “improperly considered complaints regarding noise, traffic, lights, emissions and other concerns from community group Protect PT, which is opposed to the plan.”

Reach Natasha Khan at 412-515-0063 or nkhan@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @khantasha.

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