DEP hearing on forced pooling postponed to October



A two-day hearing in Lawrence County that could go a long way to determining whether “forced pooling” of natural gas will be allowed in Pennsylvania has been postponed until Oct. 27 and 28, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The hearing will focus on an application by the Hilcorp Energy Co. for a “well spacing order” that would allow the Houston, Texas-based firm to site four well pads in Pulaski Township, Lawrence County, and Shenango Township, Mercer County.

If the DEP grants the permit order, Hilcorp will be able to draw off all of the gas in the Utica Shale formation under that 3,267-acre swath — even under several properties totaling approximately 35 acres, whose owners have not signed a gas lease with the company.

According to Morgan Wagner, a DEP spokeswoman, the hearings are “an important matter“ because the Hilcorp application is the first filed in 30 years under the forced pooling provision of the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Law of 1961. The law permits the “involuntary integration” and extraction of unleased oil and gas holdings.

 

It also is the first time the provision has been used to justify a permit proposal for an “unconventional” shale gas well, which uses directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing. That technique injects millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sands to crack the shale formation deep underground and release its gas.

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The landowners who have not signed leases with Hilcorp have sued in Commonwealth Court, and the decision in that case will determine whether the 53-year-old law applies to shale gas in the Utica formation and deeper.

A motion by the property owners to delay the hearing until after the court rules was denied on Aug. 11 by Michael Bangs, a DEP hearing officer, clearing the way to schedule the October hearings.

At the first hearing, which will be held over two days on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, testimony will be limited to the DEP, Hilcorp and property owners and operators in the area of the proposed drilling. But those sessions will be open to the public. A second hearing, which will begin at 6 p.m. on Oct. 28, will take testimony from the general public.

All of the hearings will be held in New Castle, at the Albert P. Gettings Government Center Annex of the Lawrence County Government Center.

Those interested in presenting testimony should contact Glenda Davidson at 717-787-4449 at least seven days before the first session.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

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