New Castle News

March 31, 2014

DEP sets ‘forced pooling’ hearing for May

Mary Grzebieniak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Hearings that could lead to “forced pooling” have been re-scheduled for May.

The Department of Environmental Protection announced that there will be three hearings, and one will be reserved for testimony from the public.

The new hearing dates are 10 a.m. May 7 and 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. May 8. All the hearings will be at the Albert P. Gettings Government Center Annex next to the Lawrence County courthouse.

The first two hearings will consist of testimony from DEP, Hilcorp, property owners and operators in the area subject to the order. The public will be allowed to attend and observe those hearings but will not be allowed to testify. Only at the 6 p.m. May 8 hearing will members of the public be allowed to provide input.

When the hearings initially were announced, only two morning hearings were scheduled  for March 25 and 26, and no provision was made for input from the general public. At that time, the DEP had requested that a third session be added for public input. A citizens group also had asked that a public session be scheduled in the evening to allow greater public access.

Shortly after, the DEP announced postponement of the March hearings to allow for notification of some landowners who were not informed personally of the hearings.

 The hearings will be on the application of Hilcorp Energy Co. of Texas for a well spacing order that establishes four gas well drilling units on 3,267 acres over the Utica Shale formation in Pulaski Township, Lawrence County, and Shenango Township, Mercer County. If the well drilling and spacing unit order is granted, the next step would be a hearing on an integration order. It this is granted, it would force holdout landowners to negotiate a price and sign a gas and oil lease.

This will be the first-ever spacing order application for an unconventional shale gas well in Pennsylvania, DEP officials have said.

The assigned hearing officer, attorney Michael Bangs of Cumberland County, will preside at the hearings. After the hearings, Bangs will make a recommendation, but the final decision is up to DEP Secretary Christopher Abruzzo.