The Herald, Sharon, Pa.


March 22, 2014

DEP says ‘forced pooling’ hearings are postponed

MERCER, LAWRENCE COUNTIES — The state Department of Environmental Protection on Friday said public hearings have been postponed on a request to force local landowners in Mercer and Lawrence counties to allow gas and oil drilling on their land.

DEP said it made the decision, along with the request of Hilcorp Energy Co. – the Texas drilling outfit seeking what’s become known as “forced pooling.’’ The hearings had been scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in the Lawrence County courthouse.   

A request by DEP and Hilcorp was made to the hearing officer assigned to the case, DEP said. No new date has been given for the hearing.

A number of residents in the affected area had complained they weren’t properly notified and sought a delay in the hearings. Further, more than 20 state environmental groups also asked for a delay saying more time was necessary to allow members of the public to voice their opinions.

Hilcorp’s action has drawn statewide attention as it’s invoking a 1961 state law to force holdouts to negotiate a price and sign a lease. It’s the first attempt in 30 years to use the law this way, DEP has said.

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 company is applying to drill four gas wells on 3,267 acres in the Utica Shale under Pulaski Township, Lawrence County, and Shenango Township, Mercer County.

“DEP has made it clear that we intend to properly inform the public of the hearing process in order to garner necessary public input on this important matter,’’ DEP Deputy Secretary Scott Perry said in a news release. “As soon as we discovered that some of the residents within the proposed spacing units had not been identified by Hilcorp in its application, we began pursuing a delay to ensure that all potentially impacted residents would have ample time to be informed and prepared for the hearing. Hilcorp agreed to request a delay so that we could provide notice that goes above and beyond what the law requires.’’

DEP recently discovered an unspecified number of property owners within the area of the requested order were not included in the application materials submitted to the department.

Hilcorp identified more than 200 property owners as part of its deal in the area as part of its application to DEP, the agency said. But  information on property owners who have not entered lease agreements or for the other operator that has property interests in the area subject to the requested order wasn’t included, DEP said.

“It has been our position that all potentially impacted homeowners and other operators deserve to receive personal notification well in advance of the hearing proceedings,’’ Perry said. “Postponing the hearing ensures that all property owners, operators and interested persons will be given proper notice.’’

Based on a list provided by Hilcorp, DEP sent two rounds of letters detailing the hearing process to more than 200 property owners in the area covered by the application. When DEP learned that certain property owners and operators had not been previously identified or provided notice, DEP immediately mailed them notice, the agency said.

Pennsylvanians looking for more information should call 717-772-2199.

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