The Associated Press April 18, 2012, 5:47PM ET

Gas co. disregards Pa. township order to stop work

Chesapeake gas drilling company is refusing to obey a cease-and-desist order issued by a western Pennsylvania township in a dispute over local zoning laws and drilling rights.

Darlington Township Solicitor Garen Fedeles said Wednesday that Chesapeake Energy is ignoring the stop-work order issued Friday by a zoning officer.

Darlington maintains Chesapeake is violating a zoning regulation by proceeding with the work without final township approval. Chesapeake argues that it has the right to drill now.

Fedeles said if the dispute goes to court and the township is successful, Chesapeake could be fined $500 per day.

Chesapeake spokesperson Jacque Bland said in a statement that the Oklahoma City-based company has offered to discuss the issue further with the township, but believes Chesapeake has a valid lease on the land and is entitled to drill.

"We would not be preparing and drilling this well were that not the case," Bland said.

At the heart of the issue is an area where the company is already embroiled in a dispute with several property owners. The owners maintain the original 2005 drilling leases were improperly executed and the company should make no changes to the properties, pending resolution of the disagreements.

But Chesapeake sued in March, saying the company needed to cut down some trees before a protected bat species emerged from hibernation. A judge sided with Chesapeake.

Attorney Jordan Yeager, who has represented several families and municipalities in disputes with gas drilling companies, said he's heard of one similar case in northeastern Pennsylvania. Yeager said Chesapeake's challenge may be part of a broader legal battle over how in interpret Pennsylvania's new gas drilling law.

The law was supposed to take effect April 15, but a judge ordered a temporary halt to the provision that puts limits on the power of municipalities to regulate the natural gas exploration industry.

The order came as a victory for seven municipalities that had sued. But the judge also suggested that the towns' wider challenge to the constitutionality of the new law is questionable.


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