Work continuing on shale well pad as case makes way through federal court

DARLINGTON, Pa. — Chesapeake Appalachia is moving forward with work on a well site pad in Darlington Township, Pa., even with a cease and desist letter hanging over it.

The latest activity is just part of a legal mess involving the McRoberts Farm and 17 other landowners.

Lease in question

And it’s important to note the current McRoberts Farm lease — which Chesapeake claims is valid and the McRoberts claim is not — is set to expire April 25.

O&G Investments

The landowners, including the McRoberts, signed leases between 2002 and 2005 with O&G Investment Holdings LLC, in Wooster, Ohio.

The leases were eventually sold by O&G to Ergon Exploration Inc., and Petro Evaluation Services in 2007 and 2010, before ending with Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC, in May 2010.

A lawsuit was filed by Robert C. and Mary S. McRoberts and 17 other landowners in late March alleging fraud and questions the legalities of leases which the landowners signed between 2002 and 2005. A counter lawsuit was then filed by Chesapeake against the McRoberts for stopping the construction of a well pad on their property.

Judge’s orders

A federal judge ordered in March that landowners could not stop Chesapeake from cutting trees down on the property in preparation for the well pad.

Chesapeake was asking to cut the trees down because the property is part of the hibernacula, or habitat, of the Indiana bat, a threatened and endangered species as determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Because of the threat to the Indiana bat population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibits cutting down trees and clearing from April 1 until after Nov. 1.

Judge David S. Cercone issued a temporary restraining order March 29 to Chesapeake, which meant the company could enter the property and remove trees in preparation for a well site. The company was given a deadline of midnight March 31 to get the work completed.

Didn’t stop with trees

However, the work did not stop with the trees, according to the McRoberts and Darlington Township supervisors.

In Darlington Township, a conditional use hearing is needed because of zoning in that township. Chesapeake reportedly canceled the conditional use hearing set for April 9, and so when construction continued on the well site pad beyond the initial tree cutting, the supervisors decided to take action.

The township sent a “cease and desist” letter to Chesapeake, stating that “all earthmoving activity associated with the construction of the aforementioned McRoberts BEA Pad ‘A’ natural gas well site must immediately cease and desist to avoid further action permissible under the Darlington Township ordinance…” Zoning officer Jeffrey Frye sent the letter.

The penalties for failing to comply include a fine of $500 plus court costs. If a judge makes the finding in favor of the township, that fine is charged every day.

Chesapeake speaks out

However, Chesapeake does not see things the same way.

A letter sent to Darlington Township acknowledges the order given by township supervisors.

“Chesapeake believes the McRoberts lease is valid and subsisting. We would not be preparing and drilling this well were that not the case, and the court granted us a temporary restraining order preventing the McRoberts from interfering with our operations.”

“We anticipate having a commercially productive well on this property soon, which will pay the McRoberts substantial royalties,” said Stacey Brodak, senior director of corporate development said in a written statement.

No violations

In its letter to the township, Chesapeake stated it was not in violation of the zoning law because it was not actually drilling the well, but preparing for the project.

“As expressly authorized by section 4 of Ordinance No. 46, Chesapeake is proceeding lawfully with the construction and development of the project.”

Chesapeake said it has not withdrawn its conditional use application of the project but instead has asked for postponement for a hearing on the application.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

One Comment

  1. It seems as if Chesapeake is exceeding the magistrate’s order by continuing to develop the site, when all that was permitted by the restraining order was to allow the cutting of the trees.

    I recently signed a lease with Chesapeake, in Darlington Township, and I’m concerned about Chesapeake abiding by the terms of our contract, given their apparent disregard for the orders of a judge, in this case.

    Thank you for keeping us apprised of developments, Kristy.

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