Responsible Drilling Alliance

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Inflection Energy’s Alternative Facts

Pants on Fire in the courtroom?


On March 22nd in Philadelphia, shortly after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments on Gorsline v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfield Township v. Inflection Energy, a fire truck was spotted pulling up, sirens roaring, in front of City Hall where the Court was in session. Interesting timing. To those who have followed the dismal record of violations piled up by the well-casing-and-cementing-integrity-challenged Inflection Energy, or the antics of their legal counsel, Susan Smith, at township hearings, the appearance of heroic first responders was an appropriate sight.


For an excellent synopsis of the legal issues by PA Power Source reporter Laura Legere, see this link:


From the perspective of a non-legally trained observer, the case comes down to whether a family who decided to buy a home and raise children in a district designed to have a “quiet character” can successfully challenge the municipality’s subsequent decision to allow the construction and ongoing operation of an industrial facility in their “residential and agricultural” zoning district.


The case was first heard in Lycoming County, when Judge Mark Lovecchio sided with the residents, saying “By any responsible account, the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children and future generations…perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.”


Following Lovecchio’s ruling, an appeal by Inflection took the case to Commonwealth Court where the County Court’s decision was struck down and the family’s claims denied as the decision deemed gas drilling operations similar to “public service facilities” like power substations or water treatment plants. Given that facilities like that directly benefit most or all area residents in ways that gas wells do not, it seems a stretch to say a gas well pad in a zoning district with no natural gas service is similar.


In round three, an appeal to the PA Supreme Court was brought by the Gorslines. At least some of the judges seemed surprisingly sympathetic, as the attorney for the family argued the township should not have approved the gas operations because they were dissimilar from other permitted land uses in the residential and agricultural district.


Representing Inflection, Smith argued the township was correct in deciding the operating wells would be similar to other allowed uses in the residential zoning district. Early on, Smith said a producing gas well “is a land use that is passive, low-impact in nature.”


That could be when the pants-on-fire alarm went out the PFD. First of all, why is the argument only about wells? The entire industrial facility is in question here: drilling, fracking, processing, compressing, transporting, and in every way servicing production of the commodity. Gas is the reason for the facility and wells are obviously the key component, but they are not the whole story.


Does Inflection have any gas-producing well pads in Lycoming County without glycol dehydrators? Without separators for produced “water”, and sand? Are waste products from any of these toxic? Does not the equipment have to be regularly serviced? Are these facilities without air emissions? Do the various operations never make noise or produce odors? Is not methanol repeatedly trucked in and added to pipelines leaving the pad in cold weather? Can more wells not be added to a pad, more drilled and “completed”? AS production rapidly drops off, how many times will the wells be re-fracked?


“Passive” is a strange description for an industrial activity that penetrates over a mile into the earth and is chemically and explosively stimulated to bring up combustible gasses at pressures over 1,000 psi. As we all know by now, once the wells are drilled and “completed”, industrial appurtenances are then added to the well pad.


Why is Susan Smith successfully allowed to prevent any discussion of the full scope of gas operations at township hearings on approving well pads? Once a pad for “passive” wells is permitted and tens of millions of dollars invested, what permitting process, or what court, is going to deny the need for whatever the operator deems necessary to continue producing their product on the site?


Toward the end of her argument, Smith reiterated, slightly differently, her original assertion of what will be in place once a well is operational – a “passive well that has no activity”.


Outside the courtroom, that is known as a lie. Is it any wonder those in the audience may have imagined Ms. Smith’s trousers bursting into flame at such an assertion? Did any of the Justices have a similar vision?


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