Range Marcellus pad approved near Fort Cherry schools

Raina Rippel, director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Projects, speaks Wednesday about her concerns about natural gas drilling near the Fort Cherry School District.

HICKORY – Supervisors in Mt. Pleasant Township approved a new Marcellus shale natural gas drilling pad after being met Wednesday by environmentalists who objected to the site’s close proximity to public schools.

The approval of Range Resources’ Yonkers pad included a number of zoning and related conditions on the operation, the third of its kind just beyond the boundaries of the Fort Cherry School District campus at 110 Fort Cherry Road.

“Three well pads around a school is completely unheard of,” said Raina Rippel, director of Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project.

Rippel said industrial expansion does not belong next to a school and vulnerable people when she spoke at a news conference before the township meeting began.

“We want to be here to see what the conditions are and if they are healthy and safe for our children,” added Jane Worthington of Robinson Township, who has two children enrolled in Fort Cherry schools.

The meeting was filled beyond capacity with local residents and others with an interest in the well pad.

Many residents wore matching yellow and green T-shirts containing the phrase, “Land Owners United,” some of whom approached the board stating their support of Southpointe-based Range Resources and the progress and prosperity the company has brought to the rural township.

Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said earlier Wednesday nearly 95 percent of the township is under lease with the gas industry, and that number indicates to him a clear majority of landowners there support drilling.

“Our employees live and raise (their) children in the communities where we work, including in Mt. Pleasant,” Pitzarella said. “And while state and federal regulatory agencies have repeatedly found gas development to be safe and well regulated, including Fort Cherry School District, we commend the township for conducting this process to ensure that everyone’s voice can be heard and that the activity is done in a manner best for the community.”

He said Range paid about $50 million in lease and royalty payments in Mt. Pleasant township, with about $500,000 paid to the school district.

Still, others in the crowd also pressed the township to deny the permit application.

“Any wells near the schools should not be allowed,” resident Eileen Steding said.

“I am a lease holder, but I do not support drilling near the schools,” added resident Kimberly Staub.

Township solicitor Tom McDermott said the supervisors cannot set conditions that go beyond what is outlined in state and federal drilling regulations.

“You’d be better served to knock on Harrisburg’s doors rather than on ours,” McDermott said.

He said some of the township conditions in the Yonkers permit likely won’t be welcomed by Range.

He summarized the conditions at the end of the meeting, saying they involve such issues as the use of vapor recovery units, emissions monitoring and “green completion methods.”

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