BENTON TWP. – A hearing to consider a conditional use application for a natural gas well was canceled Wednesday evening but about 150 people rallied at the hearing site to oppose gas drilling in the township.
Supervisor Larry Seymour said the hearing on Southwestern Energy Production Co.’s proposed exploratory gas well was canceled because the township solicitor found a flaw in the way the hearing had been advertised. The hearing will be rescheduled but a date has not yet been set.
“In order to avoid any kind of possible invalidation of the hearing, we decided the prudent course would be to reschedule,” he said.
The delay did not deter a crowd from filling the Benton Community Center to protest the proposed well.
The audience raised signs calling Gov. Tom Corbett a “rig-hugger” and other taunts. Others boasted, “The only natural resources I want to extract are potatoes.”
Speakers from Bradford and Susquehanna counties, where drinking water has been impacted by drilling, brought cautionary tales of the dangers of the extraction process and weaknesses in state regulations. Local organizers laid out strategies for stopping the drilling before it starts.
Attorney Tim Kelly, who is representing the Baylor’s Lake Association in its efforts to challenge the Southwestern well, advised stalling at the local level.
“The more you delay, the more you cost them,” he said. “You can make it so onerous for the gas companies they’ll go someplace else.”
Southwestern has begun building the driveway and well pad for the test well on the Wells farm off Route 407 even though the township has not yet decided on the company’s conditional-use application.
The company has said it plans to drill one well to evaluate the gas-bearing potential of the Marcellus Shale there and will return to drill six horizontal wells on the site if the test results are promising.
If it is drilled, the exploratory well will be the first Marcellus Shale well in Benton Twp. and the second in Lackawanna County.
The Baylor’s Lake Association has so far spent over $15,000 to challenge those plans, organizers said Wednesday.
Greenfield Twp. resident Leslie Avakian said Benton Twp. can use its strong zoning ordinance to its advantage to limit where and how drilling happens.
“The township does not have the right to authorize this industry to have free reign,” she said.
Some drilling supporters sat in on the rally because they had planned to attend the canceled hearing.
“You can’t be a consumer of energy and be against drilling,” said township resident Judi Johnson, whose family signed a gas lease on their dairy farm.
“I support drilling as long as it is done responsibly,” she said. “I don’t think drilling always needs to equate to disaster.”