In a 3 – 2 vote, Cecil Township gave in to bullying and agreed to a secret meeting with Range Resources.
Schrader read the letter, in which the insurance carrier told township officials to “refrain from any direct communication with Range Resources.” The letter also indicated that any direct contact without counsel present could open the township up to liability in the litigation process.
Later it was revealed the dissenting voter had a lease with Range.
“She has a large financial interest in oil and gas drilling,” Schrader said, adding that to “avoid the impression of impropriety,” she should recuse herself.
She refused to recuse herself.
Watts has already asked himself which vote he regrets the most: the natural gas pad site at Rayzor Ranch.
It was the city’s first major challenge from the industry. Range Resources had four pad-site options for drilling in the massive retail and multifamily development. The company picked the site that was closest to existing neighborhoods, a hospital and a public park. The council pressed the developer and the operator to negotiate for another site, but nothing changed. The city’s ordinances weren’t as strong as they should have been, he said.
He has since questioned not only the true litigation threat but also the criteria they were asked to use to make the decision. He believes that other council members feel the same way.
“We felt we were backed into a corner, that if we opposed it, we would probably be sued,” Watts said. “I was outraged being put in that position. If the vote happened today, it would be very different. I don’t think it would pass — period.
Now, “fear of litigation” has a different effect on him, and his thoughts and feelings are more conflicted.
“Next time I would not be so hesitant to do that fight,” he said.
He’s watched the continuing battle over shale oil and gas development with interest, particularly those cities that have been successful in banning hydraulic fracturing based on zoning laws.
“It will give time for the science to evolve,” Watts said.