April 13, 2011 – Attorney John M. Smith was cited in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and quoted by WDUQ on its NPR station for his involvement in Mt. Pleasant Township as solicitor and special environmental counsel. At a public hearing, Attorney Smith discussed various protective measures that can be implemented by local municipalities to better oversee the industry. To do so, Attorney Smith is working with different Townships and oil/gas companies to draft new ordinances

Controls touted under proposed drilling plan

By Timothy Puko

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Better controls for sound and traffic are likely if a Washington County community passes new zoning laws for the growing gas industry, the township’s special environmental lawyer said Tuesday.

About 200 people attended a public hearing on the proposed ordinance for oil and gas drilling in Mt. Pleasant in the Hickory Fire Hall.

The environmental counsel, John M. Smith, showed a photograph of sound barriers in Cecil, where he is the solicitor, and said Mt. Pleasant could have more protections at well sites if it attempted to better oversee the industry.

“I wish this ordinance had been on the books when we leased our land,” said Tina Cottrill, one of several speakers who supported the plan and complained that drillers don’t follow through on promises about dealing with noise and other disruptions. “Any driller that operates in our town should be willing to work with our town to do their business without infringing on the homes and lives of everyone around them.”

Other speakers slammed the proposal, saying they did not want to restrict drillers. Most said they were frustrated with a separate issue, a fight between township officials and Range Resources Corp. about the company’s plan to have supervisors stay in trailers at drill sites around the clock.

Walter R. Michalak was one of several residents who said it would improve safety if township officials allowed supervisors to live in trailers on site temporarily.

“There’s millions of dollars invested there, and they need to have someone on site to oversee all that,” said Michalak, a township resident since 1998. “And the ultimate concern is safety. So there needs to be some give and take on all sides.”

Range officials said last week it might take legal action or stop doing business in Mt. Pleasant, where it discovered the gas-rich Marcellus shale and has several dozen wells.

Range officials sent township leaders a letter yesterday saying they will accept mediation, said Matt Pitzarella, the spokesman at the company’s Cecil-based Appalachia division. He was not at the hearing.

Retired federal and Allegheny County Judge Donald E. Ziegler is the mediator. Range officials are hoping the meetings will help avert any legal challenge and prevent the township from passing any laws that are superseded by state law, Pitzrella said.

A vote on the ordinance scheduled for next week has been postponed.

Timothy Puko can be reached at tpuko@tribweb.com or 412-320-7991.