Huntley & Huntley Allowed to Postpone Public Hearing on Fracking Infrastructure in Public Park

Next week’s hearing to determine whether Huntley & Huntley Energy Exploration has illegally used public lands for fracking operations will be postponed until November 4, 2019.    

The Allegheny County Orphans Court proceeding is being held because Protect Elizabeth Township, a group of concerned community members, challenged Huntley & Huntley’s use of public parklands as a private water withdrawal pump station.  The proposed pump station will withdraw up to 4,000,000 gallons of water a day from the Youghiogheny River for fracked gas operations.

Huntley & Huntley claimed that they needed the hearing, originally planned for September 18th, to be rescheduled. The first reason for this emergency continuance, they claimed, was because one of their attornies has suffered complications from hip surgery in August. They claimed that without postponement the company would be left “without counsel who is adequately prepared.” Considering that the hearing date was set on July 10, 2019, it is not clear why Huntley & Huntley is suffering under such struggles to plan and prepare accordingly. In any event, Huntley & Huntley currently has more than one counsel of record on this case, and they are not a necessary party to the Township’s petition.

In a somewhat confusing claim, Huntley & Huntley asserted that another reason the hearing needed to be delayed was because they have not yet received federal approvals to convert the land from public recreation.  This is a perplexing claim, since the purpose of the Orphans’ Court proceeding is to address only whether the use for private fracking operations violates the terms of Pennsylvania’s public trust doctrine, since the parcel was dedicated to the Township to remain used solely for public recreation. Huntley & Huntley stated in their request that without these unrelated agency approvals a hearing would be “a waste of judicial resources.” However, the federal approvals have no bearing on whether allowing the pump stations on public lands violates Pennsylvania’s public trust statute. Specifically, the Township must show, and the Orphans’ Court must find under Pennsylvania law, that the continuation of the use of the park property is no longer practicable or possible and has ceased to serve the public interest. 53 P.S. § 3384.

Huntley & Huntley’s statements about the lack of state and federal agency approvals also highlights a potentially problematic situation in which Elizabeth Township previously agreed to Huntley & Huntley’s private use, without first receiving all necessary documentation. This is contrary to the law’s requirement that Orphans’ Court approval is required prior to entering into any easement that would impact the original use of the property. More concerning, Huntley & Huntley has already unlawfully begun construction of the pump station prior to Orphans’ Court approval.

Any resident of Elizabeth Township or any group or organization of residents of Elizabeth Township has the right to attend the hearing on November 4, 2019 and file a protest with the Court. Mountain Watershed Association and Protect Elizabeth Township will continue our efforts in turning out residents to the hearing on November 4th – attendance at the hearing will show the judge that we are opposed to public lands being used for private gain. 

For more information, please contact Tyler at Mountain Watershed Association at or 724-455-4200 x9#