Beaver County township orders Chesapeake to stop drilling on farm

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A Beaver County township has ordered a halt to shale gas drilling on a farm that is also a habitat for bats, saying that it violates local zoning rules.

The gas company, Chesapeake Appalachia, disputes the township's cease-and-desist order and continues work on the well.

Darlington zoning officer Jeffrey A. Frye on Friday wrote to Chesapeake, claiming that it had not been granted a conditional use application to drill on the property of Robert McRoberts and family.

He continued that it "is hereby ordered that all earth moving activity associated with the construction of the ... site must immediately cease and desist to avoid further action."

A Chesapeake representative responded that the company "is continuing with construction of the project" because it believes that its application for a conditional use entitles it to drill, even if the application was not granted.

Chesapeake's letter "respectfully requests that the Township withdraw" its cease and desist order, in order to "resolve any disagreement ... outside of the legal process."

State Act 13 would restrict municipalities' abilities to control drilling through zoning, but that portion of the law is stayed while representatives of local governments sue to have it overturned.

The McRoberts family is among several who have sued in Beaver County Court of Common Pleas to invalidate leases signed in 2005 that they said were executed under false pretenses. Chesapeake then sued the McRoberts family in U.S. District Court and won a temporary restraining order barring the property owners from standing in the way of drilling.

The matter was lent urgency by a law barring tree clearing from April through November on property that is the habitat of the Indiana bat.

Chesapeake "went in and cut the bat trees" in the final days of March, said James Brink, an attorney for the McRoberts family. "Since that time they have graded a road, cut down more trees and started drilling."

On Tuesday the McRoberts family filed an answer to Chesapeake's federal lawsuit, saying that they have so far been paid nothing for the use of their land, and were tricked by land men into signing it without fully reviewing it.

Chesapeake subsequently bought the lease and tried to get the family to reaffirm it in 2010, showing that the company "had actual knowledge of the invalidity of the McRoberts lease," Mr. Brink wrote in the answer.

A Chesapeake representative said the company considered the lease valid.

"We would not be preparing to drill this well were that not the case, and the court granted us a temporary restraining order preventing the McRoberts from interfering with our operations," Stacey Brodak, senior director of corporate development for the company, wrote in an email response to questions. "We anticipate having a commercially productive well on this property soon which will pay the McRoberts substantial royalties."

marcellusshale - neigh_west - neigh_north

Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542.


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