Three buildings that are proposed to house natural gas "production" equipment on well sites in Cummings Township owned by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reluctantly earned approval from the Lycoming County Planning Commission Thursday.
The sites are being developed by Pennsylvania General Energy for DCNR on a tract of land totaling more than 2,600 acres. The actual drilling sites compose about 10 acres within the total parcel.
Commission members didn't get a good understanding why the buildings need to be constructed because there were no representatives from DCNR, PGE or Larson Design, the Williamsport engineering firm for the project, present at the meeting.
Members only could speculate that the buildings, which will be between 2,300 and 2,800 square feet, will be used to house sensitive equipment.
"If someone asks me if I know what we approved, I have to say 'no'," said commission member Cindy Bower.
After discussing the project, Joseph H. Neyhart, vice chairman, asked for a motion to approve the measure, which stalled with no takers.
Neyhart eventually seconded a motion, but members were hesitant to vote on the project.
Some commission members wondered if they were getting conflicting information from natural gas drillers because they thought finished well pad sites would leave a small footprint and only show what is knows as a "Christmas tree" - a structure of pipes originating from the ground that controls gas flow.
"I'm thinking, 'OK, what's next?,' " Bower said.
She said she was told from those within the industry that well sites would be hard to notice from afar. She didn't expect buildings to be constructed on them. Members also questioned what a gas production building is used for.
"Either they didn't know their business or didn't know what to expect. Both things aren't good," she added. "These kinds of things lead to questions of the industry overall."
Charles F. Greevy III, commission solicitor, said members could table the request, but denying it would be difficult because it meets zoning ordinances.
Kurt Hausammann Jr., commission executive director, said the county doesn't really have much of a choice when it comes to state projects such as this. He claimed DCNR ignored county zoning ordinances when it build its new district forest building in Waterville.
"If push comes to shove, the state could basically tell us, 'good luck, guys,' " he said.
In other business, the commission approved the addition of Gamble Township in the county's zoning partnership. Hausammann said the township will pay a per capita fee that allows county staff to administer the township's zoning and codes needs.
Hausammann said Mill Creek Township also is likely to join. With growth of the county planning office's duties, Hausammann said additional staff may be needed to help complete the work.