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Marcellus Shale/South Hills C.C. Talk Dominates Crowded Whitehall Boro Meeting

'We're all on the same side, folks.' - Councilman Glenn Nagy

Ever since the leased to allow  in , Whitehall's elected officials have taken some heat.

But in front of a large crowd at Wednesday night's Whitehall Council meeting, those officials stood up for themselves during often-heated exchanges with borough residents.

In a room not meant to fit more than 50 or 60 people, those residents overflowed out of the meeting space and used public comments time to question whether or not their council members were doing enough to protect them from hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking"—a controversial component of natural-gas drilling that has been linked to dangerous levels of pollution.

The councils of some of Whitehall's neighboring municipalities, such as and the City of Pittsburgh, have passed local ordinances that ban natural-gas drilling, but the Whitehall Council has gone the route of only restricting that type of drilling to four areas in the borough—South Hills C.C. being one of them.

Thus, the country club's lease with Chesapeake Energy is perfectly legal in Whitehall. Still, club officials have .

Is a Full Ban Appropriate? Is the Solicitor Appropriate?

Mark Valenta, who lives at 4557 Echo Glen Dr. (very near the country club), was one of many residents on Wednesday that urged the council to pass an outright ban on natural-gas drilling instead of a partial ban. Valenta also questioned whether or not Whitehall's solicitor Irving Firman, of Tucker|Arensberg Attorneys, is "the proper advocate for this community."

Firman's legal advice to the Whitehall Council has been to avoid passing an outright ban.

Valenta cited text from the Tucker|Arensberg website, which shows that firm features 12 lawyers who represent clients for cases regarding "Energy - Oil, Gas & Minerals."

"Tucker Arensberg, P.C., provides a wide range of services to those engaged in, and providing services to, the oil, natural gas and coal industries, primarily in the Appalachian Basin of Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Western New York and Northern West Virginia, including those active in the Marcellus Shale play and shallow formations," Valenta read from the site.

"I question whether or not he (Firman) can advocate for us given I'm sure the large amount of money that his firm brings in from these companies versus what he brings in acting as a solicitor here," Valenta said.

Firman, however, is not one of the 12 aforementioned Tucker|Arensberg lawyers, and Firman said that he does not know offhand if any of those 12 have Chesapeake Energy as a client. Firman was asked by Valenta to find out and report back to the Whitehall Council.

Firman has represented other land developers, though.

Whitehall Mayor James F. Nowalk, who has been , said that the fact that Firman does not know offhand if any of his colleagues represents Chesapeake shows that Firman is properly maintaining "a wall of separation" from his colleagues when it comes to looking out for Whitehall's best interests.

Said Firman, "I represent municipalities. I represent developers. I represent business owners. I represent a wide array of people. That does not preclude me from giving advice on these various issues. In fact, it makes me better suited to give advice because I understand what the outfits are doing."

Firman also said that part of having an oil and gas practice includes representing homeowners against drilling companies.

"It's somewhat offensive to me with your implication that you think that my advice (to the Whitehall Council) would be somehow skewed by my representation (of others)," he said.

Several crowd members became upset with Firman over that comment, yelling, "No, no, no," and applauding Valenta.

But Councilman Philip Lahr came to Firman's defense, saying that Firman is protecting Whitehall and that Firman is right to recommend only restrictions on gas drilling rather than an outright ban.

"We have this man sitting here that gives us legal advice," Lahr said, "and I take offense at you (Valenta)."

Valenta responded that he has the public right to speak, and Lahr agreed.

"But you don't need to insult this man (Firman)," Lahr said.

Crowd members began to shout at Lahr, but Lahr responded, "I have the floor. You will be quiet."

He then went on to explain that he and his fellow council members agree with Firman when Firman recommends not to completely ban drilling because doing so would be in contradiction to higher state law and could bring heavy court costs to the borough's taxpayers.

"It is illegal to completely ban (Marcellus Shale drilling)," Firman said. "It's unconstitutional. That's the reason that we adopted the ordinance that we did."

Added Lahr about the prospect of facing expensive court battles, "I don't want to put you (residents) in front of all of that (court battles). I don't want to put my borough in front of that."

Act 13, and "Where's Your Courage?"

Council President William J. Veith explained that the recent passing of a joint bill by the Pennsylvania Legislature that amends the state's Oil and Gas Act to allow drilling in all municipal zones—also known as Act 13—trumps any ban that Whitehall could enact.

Mayor Nowalk added that Act 13 also trumps Baldwin's and Pittsburgh's bans and puts those municipalities in danger of lawsuits.

But Ron and Patricia Covato, of 4602 Clubvue Dr., which is also very near the country club, see a lawsuit as being worth the risk if it spares borough homeowners from seeing their property values dip from being close to a fracking site.

"Have we calculated the costs to residents' homes, mortgages, roads?" Ron asked. "It may be cheaper for us to pay those (legal) expenses rather than to lose our homes."

Added Patricia over the threat of lawsuits, "Fear—yes, that's one thing. But where's your courage?"

So What Are the Options?

Not every resident at Wednesday's borough meeting disagreed with the council's decision to follow Firman's advice. Bob Kauer, of 4350 E. Barlind Dr., for example, acknowledged that Act 13 ties Whitehall's and other municipalities' hands when it comes to banning natural-gas drilling.

"There's no way that you can stop Marcellus Shale drilling," Kauer said.

But Kauer recommended that the Whitehall Council and other citizens try to help each other to find a state legislator to sponsor a bill that would amend Act 13 to prohibit drilling at least in urban and suburban areas like Whitehall.

"You'll never get rid of the act in its entirety," Kauer said, "but we need some type of guidance to go about getting a senator or a state legislator (involved)."

Lahr suggested contacting state Rep. Harry A. Readshaw, whose jurisdiction includes part of Whitehall. Readshaw has voted against Act 13.

"The only way Act 13's gonna change is if we get a senator or a representative to sponsor a bill to do it," Kauer said. "If we go that route, it doesn't cost us legal fees in front of the Supreme Court if it goes that far ... 

"This council didn't do (Act 13). The state legislators that we put in office did it."

Bill Bozic, of 8 Club Dr. E., another country club neighbor, offered another possible defense for banning drilling in Whitehall, saying that Act 13 favors the natural-gas drilling industry over citizens' rights to due process in that drilling quickly and drastically harms the values of nearby homes and prevents things such as second mortgages or loans on property.

Councilman Robert McKown asked Firman to investigate that possibility.

Many other residents on Wednesday suggested to the Whitehall Council that the borough join , Mt. Pleasant Township and a handful of other municipalities in a . Firman said that he could not comment on that lawsuit since it has not yet been formally filed.

Speaking of constitutionality, Sarah Scholl, a co-founder of the South Hills Area Against Dangerous Drilling (SHAADD) group and a resident of 5302 Overlook Glen Dr., suggested that the Whitehall Council defend itself by citing a piece of the Pennsylvania Constitution. SHAADD helped to organize Wednesday's large turnout by delivering an informational flier—see it in this article's media gallery above—to homes near the country club.

The constitution reads, "The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people."

But Nowalk, who is also an attorney, did not agree that that piece of the state constitution would help Whitehall in court.

"Think about the history of southwestern Pennsylvania with steel mills and smog and my father telling me that there were days when you couldn't see the sunlight at 12 noon ... ," Nowalk said. "This is not an answer to a lawsuit. We will be out of court so fast and paying all the legal bills."

That's not to say that Nowalk, Veith and the rest of Whitehall's council members aren't adamantly opposed to drilling in Whitehall.

"Everyone here representing this community is fighting for the safety and for what's good for the community overall," Veith said. "There isn't a person sitting up here who wants the drilling.

"Everyone here is looking at the best avenues, through our solicitor and what correspondence we've had with other municipalities who also adopted ordinances, and we have come to the consensus that this (partial ban) is the direction to go."

Said Lahr, "I would be the first one to stand in front of those (drilling) trucks. I do not like any of it."

Added fellow Councilman Glenn Nagy, "This is not an adversarial thing. We're all on the same side, folks."

How do you feel about the potential of natural-gas drilling at the South Hills Country Club? In general? Tell us in the comments section below.

And check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch later on Thursday for more odds and ends from Wednesday night's council meeting.

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Paula Lim March 22, 2012 at 02:03 PM
They didn't stand up for us in the first place, especially those council members who also belong to the country club, and they will not stand up for us know. Pleading my case to them now is a waste of my time and energy......... I will spend my time and efforts on a state-wide ban!
sawyer March 22, 2012 at 02:19 PM
the sky is falling routine is enough already! Gas drilling is a savor to this state to this region to this country. I want take a few minutes out of my busy day to share some facts and knowledge about natural gas drilling for my fellow whitehallians. Number 1. today there is no market to explore natural gas in our borough. No pipelines in the area to take in high volume of gas. No 2. there are very few possible locations to explore the Marcellus Shale in the Borough, and none of them are large enough to interest any natural gas drilling company to come here and drill. No 3. on March 12,2012 the EPA has came out and stated that the water in Dimock, PA was NOT contaminated by natural gas operations. For those who do not know Dimock was placed on the map by the fake documentary film maker Josh Fox. Fox based his whole lie on what happened in Dimock and you all bought into it like snake oil, including our MAYOR. So lets put that movie to bed now that the facts are out. Number 4. It sickens me to see 2 people Sarah Scholl and Aaron Booz who combine own .213(point two one three) acres of ground in our borough,(sarah lives in an apartment and does not own any actuall property in the borough and Aaron has a very tiny lot which is not near anywhere nat gas can be developed.) and they are the ones putting fliers of lies out to our citizens addressing their personal opinions about what the country club has done with its privately owned property. I smell jealously.
sawyer March 22, 2012 at 02:27 PM
the problem is that you people( the nay sayers of energy for america) are just uneducated about the gas industry. you hear a few bad stories, and you turn your nose up to it. We drill thousand of wells a year in the USA, you hear what a dozen bad stories and you say shut it down? people drive and die on the highway everyday, do we shut down the turnpike?????? people fear what they don't know or understand. take this paula lady who commented on here, do you think she knows that the gas industry supplied the energy for her to type on the internet? do you think she wakes up takes a hot showes and realizes wow the heat from this water came from nat gas. the fact is she could not live without the energy we provided her, but she will take time out of her day to bash us protest us fear us. opinion are not facts.
Marcus March 22, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Saying that gas drilling is the savor(sic) of the state is an opinion. Also... 1. They will add pipeline via Eminent Domain. 2. South Hills Country Club has a lease. 3. This article is about gas drilling in Whitehall (not Dimock). 4. I got nothing for number 4. This last thing wasn’t numbered, but I’m pretty sure that Gasland is a real documentary. I guess whether or not one chooses to believe the facts it presents is up to that individual. Anyway, want to meet up in Dimock for a drink? Heck, we could probably buy a couple of houses while we’re there.
Nancy Robinson March 22, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Yes, we all use energy. But Earth is not a bottomless pit. Earth is also our home and I want to care for it. I think we need to do a lot of sustainable development of energy and get off fossil fuels as much as possible. The more we 'develop' the more we'll use. Let's just decide to leave it there....perhaps future generations will need it. Also, I don't want to turn our area into a factory. Rigs are nearly 10 stories high and they're noisy. SHCC is no place for such a thing. Let's CONSERVE and skip the drilling. BTW that gas won't stay home anyway; energy goes onto the world markets now. We'll be digging it up for China's use.
sawyer March 23, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Marcus let the education begin for the uneducated. Eminent domain is for utility companies not drilling companie. and eminent domain can only be used when there is a demand for it, meaning eminent domain will never happen in whitehall because there is no demand. are storage fields are full. Yes glad to hear about the country club lease good for them they are privately owned, however I will say it again, NO GAS DRILLING COMPANY WILL EVER DRILL THERE!, so why the lease right? because it acreage adds value to that companies portfolio. in return gets them larger investments. Dimock is a huge part of this article, you are claiming you have the right to clean air and water, you live in whitehall, we have city water, not well water. also now that we now that Dimock water was not caused by drilling the more we know about josh fox's fakeumentary. So why the out-cry in whitehall over NOTHING. you people are wasting your time and our council's time. If you want to meet in Dimock for a drink sure I even drive.
sawyer March 23, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Nancy, let me educate you on geological formations under our surface. The Marcellus shale is only one of the plays below us, there are several formations to drill in later dates for future generations. So why not use the closest one now. Our area will never be a factory because it cant (drilling)happen here.(period) and so what if they are noisy its not for ever, it would be no different than having a housing devleope company come in and build homes, noise, dirt, debris, traffic, but they leave when the work is done same with the gas companies, I dont see you out protesting home developers. AND BTW what do you have against the USA exporting energy for once instead of importing? for starters we spend 1.6 billion per DAY to the middle east(to country that hate us and control us by fuel marketing) why not stop that now convert our cars/trucking/power plants to Natural gas, save that money we send over there. With the left over gas we export and now America is back to being the strongest economical country in the world. you folks are fighting the wrong fight.
sawyer March 23, 2012 at 01:59 PM
*our storage fields are full, meaning there is no need for another pipeline.
mightytrex March 25, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Fracking is spelled "fracing" withouth a "k". Maybe there should be a geologist at your meetings to educate the "uneducated" about Marcellus Shale. There is a lot of misinformation out there.
SouthPghResident March 25, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Councilman Veith's Brother is on the Board of South Hills Country Club.. So you know he is getting something out of it.. Many members up at the Club get "Royalties" from the drilling on the CC property.. Its all legal, but very sneaky. We need to vote out these council members that have been in office way too long..
Jon Wain March 26, 2012 at 01:02 AM
I'm surprised that council did nothing to band drilling in the boro. They are usually on top of things.This is a big issue no doubt.It may very well be the end for the current council. There is plenty of open land in the county with no residents nearby.Perhaps they could drill there.
Marion March 28, 2012 at 02:06 AM
I do not believe that the gas companies will not drill in our area if the opportunity presents itself. Sawyer, for you to say that Gasland is is a farce, I would love to see you drink the brown water in Dimock, breathe the air when flaring is going on and try to sleep when compressor stations are operating 500 feet from your home. There is a push for drilling to be done in Allegheny County (The proposed compressor station would be in Frazer Township, less than 10 miles from Highland Park, Lawrenceville, etc. Pollutants released would travel by air & water, and will travel long distances easily & quickly. This compressor station will emit tons of harmful pollutants each year into the air. Some of these pollutants have been linked with respiratory diseases, neurological issues, and cancer.) Go ahead push for drilling, I would love to see you live where it is being done. Watch your animals die and take your family to the doctor trying to figure why neurological deficiencies have cropped up soon after drilling, oh and why does your blood test positive for arsenic? Coincidence? Listen to the commercial on KDKA radio, tell me this is not a reality.
sawyer March 28, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Marion, again I will keep reiterating this, " the sky is not falling", please read the EPA's report on Dimock water it was released march 12, 2012. EPA says that the water in dimock is not contaminated by gas drilling operations. So yes gasland is "farce". Josh Fox played on all your fears and lack of knowledge about the industry, he cashed out on your fears more than he would have if he signed his gas lease, so please explain to me how he is not the devil? hes the lowest of human beings. Lets talk compressors, since you think you are an expert with your scare tactics, a compressor station releases no more pollutants than cars/trucks running along 5th ave or penn ave in lawrenceville at rush hour, so I ask whay aren't you out there protesting the auto industry? The fact that you use the words "tons of harmful pollutants" just adds to the fact you know nothing about the oil and gas industry you are clearly just one of josh fox's sheep. Yes there is a push for drilling in allegheny and its already begun, Frazer twp has 4 wells drilled already with plans to drill a "ton" more. THANK GOD. the people of Frazer can not be happier with this either. (well other than the small group of small property landowners who will not make a profit from this, that seems to be a trend, the only ones crying wolf are the jealous ones.) you need to educate youself on facts not myths embellished by misinformed people. Funny how the wells that were done in Frazer the people around them are fine!
sawyer March 28, 2012 at 03:09 PM
drilling will never happen there, hence no royalties.
sawyer March 28, 2012 at 03:10 PM
thats because you can't ban it.
sawyer March 28, 2012 at 03:17 PM
agreed. and thats just it the josh fox gasland sheep are the only ones pushing the bad information. It is ten times easier to get someone to go along with hatred than good.
sawyer March 28, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Marion: not to mention that not ONE person from frazer twp went to this compressor hearing yesterday. hmm
Jenny Yeager March 28, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Obviously, Mr. Sawyer works for the gas companies and doesn't have to bathe his children in the water or drink it!
sawyer March 28, 2012 at 06:25 PM
@ jenny, i live in whitehall, where do you live? last i checked our water was ok to bathe in because its city water, so if you live here and i assuming so or else why would be joining this conversation? but it sounds like you also will not be bathing your kids in bad water and looks like you are just another misinformed sheep. sorry to burst your bubble but they (envioronuts) got you hooked, it is so easy for you to play on with their fake horror stories than it is to find out the real facts. I bet if I told you armstrongs was giving away free food this week, you would just show up expecting a free meal without asking first.
Jenny Yeager March 28, 2012 at 06:50 PM
@ Sawyer! I think I hit a nerve! However, it is hard to tell with such poor grammar and punctuation! Anyway, your city water comes out of the rivers. A portion of the frac water is now dumped at municipal water treatment plants that are not equipped to remove the chemicals. They are then released into the rivers where they are picked up at the intake for the next town down. Their facility then treats the water but is not able to remove those chemicals either. So eventually you do drink it. Currently there is technology that can be put on the back of the frac water trucks that can remove the chemicals but the industry will not do that until it is required to do so. The same can be said for the compressor stations. Scrubbers can be put on the stations to remove the VOC’s and other contaminants but they are not required. The companies are smart. They will not add these costs until they are mandated. Even though they would help the environment they are not necessary to make the process work just to make it cleaner. You apparently spend a LOT of time at home so you should be worried about the water that you are drinking and the air that you are breathing. Good day! I have work to get done!
sawyer March 28, 2012 at 07:13 PM
@ JENNY apparently you are not the only one hitting nerves, hmm attacking grammar and punctuation wow, go fish. lets talk about our city water, you have the audacity to attack the natural gas companies but yet you say nothing about salt our boroughs use on the roads in the winter time(you see they use the same chemical combound found in frac water that is released into our rivers) so again why arent you out there protesting the salt trucks? Funny how when the new DEP secretary asked the oil and gas companies to stop disposing well water into our rivers this past winter the number of TDS went up! hmmmmm. So during the time the industry was not allowed to dispose water in our rivers there was still a problem. but yep has to be the drillers right? bah bah sheep. scrubbers are already used on compressor locations here in PA so again go fish. enjoy your free meal at armstrongs
Marion March 29, 2012 at 08:09 PM
http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/emergency-responders-at-scene-of-explosion-at-natural-gas-compressor-station-1.1292502#axzz1qWqQMaNy Sawyer, still accusing others that the sky is falling? This is a real concern to those who do not want this near their homes and schools.
sawyer March 29, 2012 at 09:02 PM
marion ............ http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/tag/fatal-accident/ please stay off the roads. this is a more serious issue, but i say again i don't see you out there protesting the turnpike or the auto industry. why pick on an industry that helps the economy, brings jobs, not to mention a surplus of money to bring this state out of debt? accidents happen everywhere. nice try
Marion March 30, 2012 at 12:33 AM
For those who choose to reside in the world of fact based issues rather than drinking the Kool-aid supplied by the industry, take a peek at the suit filed by several townships in opposition to Act 13. The whole document can be found on Cannon Mac Patch. Be sure to read through to the Flaring section to see where chemicals are pouring into surrounding communities. Comparing this to automobile exhaust fumes sawyer? Your comments are not worth any more of my time. Quite frankly, they are one sided, without reason and incredibly rude. Let's see what side of the fence you sit on when you are paying more than you ever imagined years down the road for water because of the filtration it must go through to "remove" the poisons injected from the very industry you defend.
sawyer March 30, 2012 at 12:43 AM
I stand by facts while you stand by opinions. Whose drinking the kool aid. Sorry if I come off rude but I find it rude you people take no time to look up facts. I will enjoy my prosperity in oil and gas while you watch the world go by.
Noony April 03, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Great facts Sawyer!!!!! But you are letting them get to you. It is hard to get people educated when they don't want to know the facts. They just want to know the myths. Don't worry, they will be the first too complain while paying for $4 gas. There have been tens of thousands of wells drilled in PA/OH/WV but they want to focus on the few accidents that have occurred. Let's just keep paying over $500,000 per MINUTE!!!! for foreign oil to people who want to kill us. Please forgive me if I misstyped anything or had improper grammar.

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