Drilling regulations face challenge in South Fayette

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A driller and a landowner planning Marcellus Shale development in South Fayette are challenging the township's gas regulations.

South Fayette officials received a request last week from Range Resources-Appalachia LLC and Cuddy Partners LP to go before the zoning hearing board in December to challenge the validity of the oil and gas ordinance and to seek relief from its rules.

The applicants' attorney, Clifford B. Levine, wrote that the ordinance is "invalid and unenforceable" and that, in effect, it "totally exclude[s] oil and gas development from the entire township."

The 2010 ordinance bans surface drilling in areas zoned for homes, schools, parks and farms. Drilling is permitted as a conditional use in industrial and commercial areas.

"I stand behind the ordinance, and hopefully the zoning hearing board will uphold it," Commissioner Joe Horowitz said this week. "I believe it to be valid, and I don't believe it does preclude drilling in the township."

Natural gas driller Range Resources of Cecil, and property owner Cuddy Partners of South Fayette, have a lease agreement for a well pad, production equipment, access road and pipeline on 400 acres bordered by Cecil Sturgeon Road and Millers Run Road.

The property includes the former Campbell Airport site in the Cuddy area of South Fayette.

John Alan Kosky, vice president of Cuddy Partners and its general partner, Cuddy Associates LLC, serves as chairman of the three-member South Fayette zoning hearing board.

"I would imagine that he would have a conflict," Mr. Horowitz said.

Mr. Kosky's term on the board will expire in December, along with another full member and one alternate, township manager Ryan Eggleston said.

The commissioners, who appoint zoning board members, voted Oct. 16 to advertise the openings.

Commissioners also voted to hire consulting engineering firm Lennon Smith Souleret Engineering Inc. of Coraopolis to review and comment on the Cuddy well project materials. The engineer rates range from about $71 to $112 per hour.

"They have special expertise in oil and gas well review," board president Deron Gabriel said.

In 2000, Cuddy Associates bought two parcels totaling 400 acres, and transferred the land to Cuddy Partners in 2009, according to Allegheny County real estate records.

Maps show the proposed well pad would sit on a 260-acre parcel, which includes the airport runway, an existing road and some buildings.

The site is zoned for planned economic development, where South Fayette allows Marcellus Shale development as a conditional use.

Project maps show that a new access road to Cecil Sturgeon Road would be built on an undeveloped, 140-acre parcel to the northwest that is zoned rural-residential.

South Fayette does not have an agricultural zone, and many farmlands lie in rural-residential areas.

About 17 acres would be disturbed by the Cuddy project, according to a site map.

The project documents, which the township received Oct. 16, include an application to challenge the validity of the oil and gas ordinance in front of the zoning hearing board, as well as detailed reasons for the challenge written by Mr. Levine, of the Pittsburgh law firm Cohen & Grigsby.

Mr. Levine wrote that Range Resources and Cuddy Partners have applied for a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection for the project, and he requested that the township immediately issue a certificate of use and occupancy to his clients.

A substantive validity challenge to the zoning ordinance originally was submitted to the township in June, but the zoning board did not hold a hearing, so the application was deemed denied, according to Mr. Levine.

The applicants appealed the denial to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, which on Oct. 9 sent the matter back to the township's zoning board, Mr. Levine wrote.

Mr. Horowitz said the court order required the applicants to be more specific about what portions of the ordinance they are disputing, prior to making their case to the zoning hearing board.

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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