The Augustine well pad in Cecil Township has raised a lot of questions for local residents, who recently built their homes where a well pad is permitted to operate, at a minimum required distance from their homes, by part of the same Board of Supervisors that oversaw the permitting of their neighborhood. The people living in Windsor Woods, a new community development, don’t own their oil and gas rights, and only recently were they minimally informed of the oil and gas development.
As the operations at the Augustine Pad picked up, residents came to their Board of Supervisors seeking answers and help. Unfortunately, they left with even more unanswered questions.
The following is a series of questions and answers that residents can use to inform their conversations with the Board going forward. This information should help people to understand what the Board of Supervisors has the power to do in managing oil and gas development.
Does the community have the ability to challenge the pad development and permitting process through existing zoning laws?
Challenging well pads through zoning laws is not consistent across townships, and many townships have been unsure where oil and gas development falls into the zoning categories as they stand. Many communities lack any zoning at all. The following resources can be used to further understand how the zoning of oil and gas has played out elsewhere in Pennsylvania:
What power does the board of supervisors have to regulate and minimize the impact of the Augustine Pad?
Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution says that it is necessary to invest in the power of local government to minimize impacts of development in order to protect public natural resources. Townships can go above and beyond what is in Act 13 as long as it is justifiable.
Townships can say they want a greater setback distance for homes in certain areas; for instance, depending on the density of the residential parcel or to protect property value. However, there needs to be something specific about the community that gives the township vested interest in protecting it, for example, sensitive populations.
What should residents specifically ask of the township?
Keep in mind that there is a difference between hearing public comment, and listening and considering public comment.
Residents should feel empowered to ask that the Board require a traffic study so that when decisions are made around infrastructure accountability, the township can ask the oil and gas developers for exactly what is needed on certain roads and in specific communities.
Residents should feel empowered to ask for a comprehensive air study, including but not limited to how increased development of oil and gas operations across the township will impact air quality, specifically related to the density of residential neighborhoods and the topography.
In the conditional-use permitting process, the Board of Supervisors can negotiate with the company, in this case Range Resources, to invest where they want them to. The bottom line is that Range Resources wants to develop Cecil township, and it is on the Board of Supervisors to hold them accountable and negotiate on behalf of the residents to widen, improve, and invest in infrastructure impacted by the industry.
People should feel empowered to ask their elected officials to gather additional information in general.
If at any point residents are hearing that the oil and gas industry will not develop Cecil Township further if they are required to invest in infrastructure and respect setbacks, people should push back and insist that the wet gas is here, that the company has already leased and paid continued bonuses to maintain leases, and that the petrochemical buildout, including the Beaver Cracker Plant, the Mark West Processing Plant, and the connecting Shell-Falcon Pipeline, indicates otherwise. Further, development is coming and folks should not be afraid to demand increased safety and health measures be taken.
To follow up on any of this information, or for more information regarding oil and gas development, feel free to contact Heaven Sensky at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 724-229-3550 ext 103.