Benton Twp Supervisors Back Down on Exploratory Well

Rather than pay legal fees to defend their legislation, the supervisors in Benton Township (Lackawanna County), PA voted Wednesday to change the language of their legislation restricting the drilling of an exploratory well by Southwestern Energy. The supervisors voted to grant Southwestern the right to drill the exploratory well back in June, but slapped 18 specific (and costly) conditions on the project, making it unfeasible according to Southwestern who challenged 11 of the 18 conditions. The supervisors changed 9 of those 11 yesterday.

The board of supervisors on Wednesday softened the conditions it set this spring for an exploratory natural gas well planned in the township in order to settle a legal challenge brought by the drilling company.

In the most substantial change, the supervisors dropped a provision requiring the driller, Southwestern Energy Production Co., to pay for an independent engineer who will monitor the drilling operations for the township, although the company agreed to grant a township-paid consultant broad access to the site.

Board Chairman Larry Seymour, the only supervisor without a gas lease with Southwestern and without a stated conflict of interest in the vote, said several attorneys agreed that Benton would lose a legal challenge on the issue of making the company pay for an engineer.

"Rather than go to court and pay legal fees, we thought it would probably be more prudent to pay engineering fees and get something more tangible for our money," he said.

The supervisors granted Southwestern’s request to drill a test Marcellus Shale well on June 13, but the company appealed 11 of the 18 specific conditions the township imposed in allowing the drilling to proceed.

The new conditions adopted Wednesday change nine of the original conditions pertaining to noise monitoring and mitigation, portable toilets, traffic routes, notice of drilling, future conditional use applications, and monitoring at the site by a township zoning officer and engineer.*

*The Scranton Times Tribune (Nov 3, 2011) – Benton eases conditions for driller