Tag Archives: Cecil Township

DEP Issues Notice of Violation to Range Resources for Leaking Cecil Township Impoundment

worstell

The state Department of Environmental Protection has issued a notice of violation to Marcellus Shale drilling company Range Resources for groundwater contamination at the former Worstell centralized waste water impoundment in Cecil Township.

News of the NOV was given to Cecil Township officials at a private meeting with DEP Monday night, board Chairman Andy Schrader said Tuesday morning.

Schrader said the NOV was issued to Range Resources because liquid from the frack pit, now known as Cecil 23 Impoundment, “escaped containment.”

“Since the DEP issued the notice of violation, this confirmed that the Cecil Township 23 is leaking. For the safety of our residents this was the township’s concern from the beginning,” Schrader.

He said DEP will arrange for further testing to be done at the site to determine the extent of the soil and water contamination.

Three officials from DEP met with all five Cecil supervisors and township Manager Don Gennusso at the municipal building for about two hours Monday to discuss ongoing concerns over possible groundwater contamination stemming from what is now confirmed to have been a leak.

The Monday meeting was requested by township officials after news that, on July 11 Range Resources notified the DEP that there were elevated chloride levels detected by the ground water monitoring wells at the Cecil 23 waste water impoundment.

“Range has until September 24 to respond.  It is our expectation that Range would perform a full characterization of the extent of the plume of contamination and to implement an appropriate remedial response to address the release,” DEP spokesman John Poister said in an email. “Still to be determined would be any civil penalty for Range.”

In response to repeated inquiries by Cecil Township officials, the DEP said last month that it would conduct a limited investigation. Cecil officials in turn sent letters to about 50 nearby residents letting them know about the potential for groundwater contamination.

The Worstell impoundment made headlines in 2013, when Cecil Township supervisors sought to meet publicly with DEP regarding concerns over the frack pit.

DEP refused to meet in public, and documents obtained through a state Right to Know request showed high-ranking officials making a joke about using a provision in the open records law to keep the gathering in private.

News of possible groundwater and soil contamination at the Cecil 23 Impoundment comes in the wake of a “significant” leak at another Range Resources impoundment in Amwell Township, Washington County. That leak necessitated the removal of at least 15,000 tons of soil. DEP issued notices of violation for the leak.

A third frack pit in Amwell run by Range Resources known as the Yeager impoundment – which was the subject of lawsuits and a federal probe – is reportedly in the process of being closed.

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella did not immediately return an email seeking more information.

Editor’s Note: It should be acknowledged that the former Worstell impoundment was the subject of industry PR spin. Check out this story and feel free to leave a comment asking for a correction.

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PA Rep. White Wins Primary, Says Rumors of Political Death ‘Greatly Exaggerated’

PA state Rep. Jesse White D, Cecil, recently introduced the legislation.

PA state Rep. Jesse White D, Cecil, won the Democratic primary Tuesday.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Jesse White won the Democratic primary on Tuesday, and will face off against his Republican challenger, political newcomer Jason Ortitay, in the November general election.

Upon finding out that a local newspaper, the Observer-Reporter had called his race, White announced his victory over Democratic challenger Tom Casciola to supporters, who gave him a rowdy round of applause.

A short time later, White wrote the following on Facebook:

“With nearly all precincts reporting, I have won the Democratic Nomination for the 46th Legislative District with approximately 57% of the vote. To my supporters, thank you for your tireless work and dedication. To my detractors, I look forward to working harder than ever to earn your support as we move forward with the singular goal of defeating Tom Corbett and bringing some common sense back to Pennsylvania government.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of my political death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Casciola did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone Tuesday night seeking comment.

 

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Act 13 Challengers: DEP, PUC Have No Basis for Supreme Court Reconsideration

Courtesy of Robert M. Donnan

Courtesy of Robert M. Donnan

By Amanda Gillooly

Editor

The law firm that led the legal challenge against a Pennsylvania law governing Marcellus Shale drilling activities this week filed a response to a motion two state agencies made earlier this month petitioning the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision that some of those regulations, collectively known as Act 13, were unconstitutional.

Attorneys for Smith Butz, the Southpointe-based firm that represented a handful of municipalities such as Cecil, Peters and Robinson townships, as well as a nonprofit and medical doctor in the challenge, filed the answer Tuesday, writing that, “Citizens respectfully request that this honorable court deny (their) request.”

In the 19-page filing, Smith Butz argues that the state Department of Environmental Protection and Public Utility Commission failed to demonstrate a compelling reason for the court to reconsider its position.

Attorneys wrote:

Reargument before an appellant court is not a matter of right, but of sound judicial discretion, and reargument will be allowed only when there are compelling reasons.”

(The DEP and PUC) presented no compelling reasons for extraordinary relief.

Attorneys from Smith Butz also wrote that the state agencies’ argument for reconsideration revolved around the standard the Supreme Court used to make its determination that portions of Act 13 violated the Pennsylvania Constitution – they specifically allege the court applied a “new” standard.

Smith Butz attorneys disagreed with this logic, writing:

(The standard used by the Supreme Court) follows the plain language of Section 27, which has been a part of the Pennsylvania Constitution for (more than) 40 years.

Agencies clearly recognized this standard, conceding that the Commonwealth…has a duty under Section 27 to conserve and maintain public natural resources.

Agencies also previously recognized that government agencies must ‘balance environmental and social concerns’ and even argued that the General Assembly did the appropriate balancing when it enacted Act 13.’

Yet now, agencies claim that they did not have an opportunity to show how Act 13 satisfies Section 27, and even argue ignorance of a balance test.

To the extent (the DEP and PUC) failed to raise argument in defense of Act 13, they cannot do so now.

A majority of the court recognized that Act 13 reflected that the General Assembly made no effort to account for local concerns or to mitigate localized impact of shale gas on the people ad their public natural resources.

…(the Supreme Court opinion) explained that Act 13’s primarily stated purpose is not to effectuate the constitutional obligation to protect and preserve Pennsylvania’s natural environment. Rather, the purpose of the statute is to provide a maximally favorable environment for industry operators.”

SmithButz attorneys also argue that the request should “be rejected because it would compromise the finality of court’s decision.”

They wrote:

“The court should not sanction an approach to the resolution of cases that does not comport with basic fairness and ultimately erodes finality and judicial economy. Because no compelling reason exists to justify reconsideration, (the DEP and PUC’s) current request fosters undue delay and creates the specter of uncertainty regarding the outcome and effect of this landmark case.”

Editor’s Note: I am having some issues with Scribd at the moment – will get a copy of this thing online ASAP. Sorry for the inconvenience! -amanda

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PA PUC, DEP Seek to Overturn Supreme Court Act 13 Decision

Courtesy of Robert M. Donnan

Courtesy of Robert M. Donnan

Two Pennsylvania agencies on Thursday filed an application to reconsider the opinions and order entered by the state Supreme Court regarding its Act 13 ruling.

The Supreme Court on Dec. 19 declared key provisions of Act 13 – the state’s law governing Marcellus Shale drilling activities – as unconstitutional, including portions that would have taken zoning control out of the hands of local government bodies.

To read more about the Act 13 ruling, click here.

The DEP and PUC hired an outside law firm, Conrad O’Brien, P.C., to handle the filing. One of the partners of the firm is Cristopher Carusone, who joined the firm after leaving his position as Gov. Tom Corbett’s chief of staff in July.

Following the filing, general counsel for the governor’s office released the following statement:

Today, lawyers representing Commonwealth agencies and officials in the Robinson Township matter have sought reconsideration of the Supreme Court’s December 19, 2013, Opinions and Order.  In the Robinson Township decision, the Court declared key provisions of Act 13 of 2012 (the Commonwealth’s oil and gas law) to be unconstitutional.

In announcing a never-before-employed balancing test against which the constitutional validity of the law is to be judged, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made its own sweeping factual findings regarding the impact of Act 13, none of which finds any support in the sparse and uneven factual record that was made before Commonwealth Court.  The Supreme Court’s decision is a stunning departure from the historical practice of that Court, and an unrestrained venture into a fact-finding role that the Court always has insisted is not its proper place in the judicial system.

Accordingly, today’s request for reconsideration seeks to give Act 13 its fair day in court, as every law of this Commonwealth deserves when challenged.  We are asking the Supreme Court to follow its own established precedent and remand the case to Commonwealth Court for the development of an evidentiary record (through a fair and thorough process in which all parties have a real and equal opportunity to participate), application of the Court’s newly-pronounced standards to the facts as found by the Commonwealth Court (with legal briefs from all parties), and finally a fair and final determination as to whether Act 13 violates Article I, Section 27 based on a full record and formal findings.

In addition, the Department of Environmental Protection is asking the Supreme Court to reconsider a decision that certain provisions of Act 13 that involve the agency’s responsibility to protect public resources (such as public parks) cannot stand separately from provisions that the Court has determined are unconstitutional.  The Department contends that the Supreme Court misunderstood how the statutory provisions work separately from each other and asks the Court to direct Commonwealth Court to study that question as part of the other matters it must examine on remand.

The SmithButz law firm handled the challenge to Act 13 on behalf of a handful of municipalities including Robinson, Cecil and Peters townships, a medical doctor and a nonprofit.

Reached Thursday afternoon, attorney John Smith said:

After more than 160 pages and more than a year of deliberation, I think the court sufficiently explained its reasoning and position with this case.  A majority of the court found that portions of Act 13 are unconstitutional – end of question.

Co-counsel, John Kamin, of Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin, said:

The PUC’s and DEP’s Request  For Reconsideration so that it can implement and utilize unconstitutional legislation is an affront to  the Citizens of Pennsylvania, and truly demonstrates the Executive Agencies’ inappropriate stake in this legislation. – John Kamin, co-counsel
Reached for reaction to the filing, state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who was vocal in his opposition to Act 13, said:
It’s unconscionable that the state of Pennsylvania is looking at a $1.4 billion deficit, yet, Gov. Tom Corbett is wasting even more taxpayer dollars in a last-ditch desperation stunt to protect his wealthy donors in the shale industry. This has ‘sore loser’ written all over it. It’s mind-boggling to me that the DEP is taking such extraordinary steps to advocate for less environmental and constitutional protections.
White also noted that it is highly irregular for appointed department heads in the Corbett administration to file a pleading of this nature, a responsibility that generally falls to the attorney general.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane has declined to defend the law.

To read the entire court filing, click on the link below:

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Why Every Pennsylvanian Should Be Offended By the DEP

Not cool, DEP. Not cool.

Not cool, DEP. Not cool.

Let me tell you why you should be offended by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

(And forgive me for starting with a bit of necessary background):

See, when I was at Patch, I broke a story about a local impoundment operated by Southpointe-based Marcellus Shale driller Range Resources in Cecil Township. 

Local government officials there told me about a spate of issues they had with the Worstell impoundment in the wake of being notified by the DEP that Range wanted to make some major modifications there.

Then, when asked why many senior execs from Range and DEP met regarding the impoundment (information uncovered through a public records request on the frac pond) as evidenced by a sign in sheet for a meeting at the department’s regional headquarters, a local DEP spokesman told me it was regarding a leak there that had been repaired (and, of course, there was no further information for me on the matter).

Although Range and DEP told a competing news organization a short time later that there were no issues at the impoundment, and that there had not been a leak as much as a spill from a holding tank, the issue still put the frac pond in the spotlight locally.

Then Cecil Township officials asked the DEP (repeatedly) for a public meeting to get answers to questions and concerns with the Worstell Impoundment.

But the DEP – a public, tax-funded department? It refused.

Oh, they would meet with the supervisors.

Just not publicly. And with no additional visitors (such as local folks who lived near Worstell with specific questions). And with no recording devices – all behind closed doors.

Lemme tell you: My head almost exploded when I heard this was what the DEP had suggested.

Because this is how they tried to make it seem legit: They called the meeting a “conference,” after at one point saying there simply wasn’t enough space for many guests in the regional headquarters where the gathering was being held.

My opinion? Total BS.

And while I could not call the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association’s legal hotline to obtain an opinion on the legitimacy of this excuse (Patch sites are not eligible to be members), the Observer-Reporter’s Emily Petsko did.

Her story can be read here, but here’s what PNA said:

A conference typically involves some training that agency personnel receive from a state or federal authorities, according to Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. Melewsky said that while a conference is permitted to be private under the state Sunshine Act, there is no reason that it cannot be made public.

What’s important is that they explain why they’re not having it publicly, and I think lack of space is not a good excuse,” Melewsky said. “I don’t think crowd size should be an issue. Public participation is a good thing. The fact that many people are interested is a positive, not a negative.”

Melewsky said that by law, a conference must not involve any deliberation of agency business.

Despite some public outcry, the meeting went on as planned.

When I was covering the issue, I couldn’t believe the audacity of the DEP. And, sometimes I pondered if members of the DEP were joking with each other about how they had gotten one over on all those concerned about the Worstell Impoundment with their flimsy technicality.

Then, state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who was publicly outraged by this issue and others involving secret meetings, local officials and the drilling industry/cheerleaders, released some documents he uncovered from a state Right to Know request.

While there are some things in there that really make a person who reads the news nauseated, there is an email thread I found particularly disgusting.

And here, my friends, is why every Pennsylvanian should be offended by the DEP:

Despite major public outcry for more information on public safety and other issues regarding a frac pond, the DEP not only met behind closed doors in a most shady manner, but also snarked about it in internal emails.

In an email dated July 18, 2013, Alan Eichler (who is listed as the environmental program manager for the DEP’s Pittsburgh oil and gas division) wrote to DEP staff:

We should be thinking about potential questions that are going to be asked at the August 9 meeting…uh, I mean conference (it’s not a meeting).

All that email lacked was a proper emoticon, or maybe a “LOL” or even the elusive “LMMFAO!” to make it more juvenile.

Oh, but that’s just part of the fun stuff in the RTK documentation.

There was also a lengthy (and seemingly unsolicited) email from Range Resources spin doctor Matt Pitzarella to Petsko about how everything is just fine at Worstell.

…But why does the DEP have that email? Why would it be in the DEP’s Worstell file? Did Pitzarella blind CC a DEP spokesman on the matter? Was it meant to be talking points after that same DEP spokesman told me for publication that there was a “leak” at the site? 

There was even an email with state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, who has long been buddy-buddy with the Marcellus Shale folks. His suggestion? A pre-meeting so the whole thing didn’t turn into a “kangaroo court.”

Timmy, I thought you were elected to do the people's work?

Timmy, I thought you were elected to do the people’s work?

The coziness among the DEP and the industry/its cheerleaders is a little startling to me.

Because the DEP? Those are supposed to be the guys on our side – the guys with the public’s interest at heart.

I have long considered myself a student of the Sunshine Law, and those on boards I have covered during years of community reporting will attest: I am, perhaps, more aggressive about closed-doors meetings than most of my colleagues. I always insist that the board chairman in question do what he is supposed to: Announce, for the record, why the hell they are going into executive session.

Could be litigation. Could be personnel. Could be property acquisition. Could be there is a state conference that an organization such as the Pennsylvania School Boards Association is hosting and all the members of a local school board want to attend (totally cool, the Sunshine Law dictates).

One thing it never is: “Um, this subject has, like, caused us a LOT of bad publicity, and it would be awfully inconvenient for us to actually sit down and answer questions from, like, anyone who wants to ask one from the public. So, yeah. We’re gonna just go ahead and meet – call it a conference. Also, no recording devices. No big.”

But that’s pretty much what the state Department of Environmental Protection did.

Editor’s Note: To access the Right to Know files released by White, click here. Also, if you’d like to tell Alan Eichler how you feel about his email, he can be reached by calling 412 442-4024. -amanda

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From the Editor: Welcome to Marcellus Monitor

welcome

I can’t stand a bully. Never could.

And in 10 years working as a journalist in the Pittsburgh region, bullying may have been a topic of feature stories, but never really a part of my everyday working life.

Until I started writing about the Marcellus Shale.

I should clarify that: I was on great working terms with many in the shale industry when I was writing feature stories singing its praises. There were check presentations. There were outreach meetings when drilling activities commenced. There was even a story about Southpointe-based Range Resources employees buying a pig for $36,000 to help a local 4H student at the Washington County County Fair.

When I was laid off from my reporting position at the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Range’s controversial spokesman, Matt Pitzarella even endorsed me on LinkedIn, calling me a fair reporter.

But that all changed shortly after I became the editor of the Canon-McMillan Patch website, which published news from Canonsburg, Cecil and North Strabane (and for the record, Pitzarella deleted his endorsement sometime during my tenure there).

Pitzarella and fellow Range spin doctors Jim Cannon and Mike Mackin were initially very supportive of my reporting efforts (Cecil Township was one of the areas where drilling activity was brisk, and I covered those issues religiously). I even met with them at the corporate headquarters, where they tried to plant a story about Cecil’s solicitor.

Cannon and Mackin suggested I write a story about how that solicitor, John Smith, was running up legal bills related to Cecil Township and his review of shale-related issues. They even gave me the legal bills they had garnered from the township through a state Right to Know request.

I looked at the bills, and I passed on the story.

Because to me, it wasn’t “a story.” It was an attempt to get a reporter to write a propaganda piece.

Shortly after that meeting, Cecil became the epicenter of local shale issues.

And as I chased after stories that increasingly made Range Resources, MarkWest and other players in the shale industry look like something less than community benefactors, I noticed that my phone calls were increasingly ignored.

By the end of my tenure at Patch (I was furloughed in August), I had not received a phone call from Range Resources, specifically, for months.

More disturbing were reports I was hearing from other reporter friends also covering the industry. One reporter even confirmed that a story that was not complimentary to the shale industry was spiked at the behest of top industry brass.

Then there was all the propaganda.

After breaking a story about issues Cecil Towship officials and residents were having with a frac pond known as the Worstell impoundment, an industry-funded website that sells itself as a “news” site about shale issues, took aim at me and sources that helped me understand the issues I wrote about.

Around that same time (in the midst of Cecil and other communities challenging the state’s newly passed legislation governing Marcellus Shale activity called Act 13), I noticed that propaganda “informational” packets were being left at local meetings.

There was also a deluge of commenters on my former site who bullied readers who asked questions or who were critical of the shale industry.

Then there was the upheaval in Cecil as its supervisors fought over secret meetings with Range Resources, and a closed-door meeting with the Department of Environmental Protection – all related to the impoundment.

Since my departure from Patch in August, I have stayed close with my sources, and have learned of so many issues that, unfortunately, are not given much (if any) ink in the local press.

That’s why I created Marcellus Monitor: Because I think you deserve more reporting than you are getting.

And I assure you: I will not be bullied.

Here, you will find original reporting, informational features and aggregated content from around the web.

And I invite you and your friends to contribute, too. If you’d like to contribute a column, a letter to the editor, or a story, please email me at marcellusmonitor_editor@yahoo.com. Also, please join us on Facebook here.

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