New Castle News

March 18, 2014

Anti fracking group waits for answer to its letter

Mary Grzebieniak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — More than 20 state environmental groups are asking that March 25 and 26 hearings on proposed “forced pooling” be postponed.

They say more time is necessary to allow members of the public to voice their opinions.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced the hearings in a legal ad which ran March 11 in the New Castle News.

The hearing would be the first step toward a DEP decision on whether Hilcorp Energy Company can force landowners to allow gas and oil drilling.  Hilcorp claims to have contracts signed by 99 percent of the landowners in the affected areas but is seeking to force the few remaining holdouts to sign a contract. The areas in question are located in Pulaski Township Lawrence County and Shenango Township Mercer County.

Still unresolved are such issues as whether the hearings will be moved to a room which will accommodate more than 70 people and who will be allowed to speak at the hearings. The environmental groups say they want to make sure that not only Hilcorp and DEP officials will be heard.

The DEP also expressed concerns last week about accommodating what they called “significant public interest” in the hearing.  They have asked hearing officer Michael Bangs, a Cumberland County attorney, to move the hearings to a room which can accommodate 500 and also to add a third day of hearings to allow all interested persons to submit written and verbal testimony.

Morgan Wagner of the DEP Press Office said yesterday she is not sure when a hearing officer will make a decision on these issues.

A citizen’s groups sent a letter to the DEP last week asking for several things, including notification of affected landowners, an evening hearing, a comment period , instructions for those who want to provide testimony, directions for submitting written comments, and a venue with adequate seating.

Yesterday, they said they are still waiting for an answer.

Karen Seridun of Kutztown in Berks County, founder of “Berk’s Gas Truth” said, “At this point, if the hearing officer decides the public can participate, it will be only a week or less before the hearing.”  She added that if he decides they can’t, “people who saw the formal notice and are making arrangements to attend may find out when they arrive that they won’t be allowed to comment.”

Seridun said she is working with several local residents who contacted her.

The hearing, which will be the first attempt in 30 years to use the law to require forced pooling “is an explosive issue that requires expansive public discussion and DEP should be transparent and straightforward in addressing it...” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of Delaware Riverkeeper Network, according to the press release.

“ The public needs to be involved in every step of the process,” Seridun said.

She said that some of the affected landowners have not even been individually notified of the hearing.

The letter was signed by 23 organizations and 58 individuals, several of them from Lawrence County.

Seridun’s website is www.gastruth.org and she said the group also has a Facebook page.

(Email: grzebieniak@ncnewsonline.com)