A lot of people might want to know what powers the city has to oversee changes of the undeveloped Banning Lewis Ranch property. We certainly would like to know more. But City Hall doesn't want all of us to know, at least not yet.
Ultra Resources, a Texas subsidiary of Ultra Petroleum, has put in a bid to buy roughly 18,000 acres of the 21,500-acre subdivision, which is in bankruptcy, so it can drill for oil and gas, according to the Gazette.
We asked the city last week if we could talk to someone about the city's zoning procedures, because Ultra has indicated it wants to convert the land to agricultural zoning. We dutifully followed Mayor Steve Bach's new dictate that media seek permission to talk to city folk without going directly to the person in the know. Doing so got us nowhere.
We wanted to tell you about the rezoning process, what criteria must be met and how many public hearings are necessary, not to mention what authority, if any, the city has over oil and gas drilling. By the way, we didn't ask to speak to anyone about that particular property, the annexation agreement or anything specific to Banning Lewis.
But the city is stonewalling — even the most basic questions about procedure.
Here's the response we got from Mary Scott in the city's communications office:
I spoke with Dick Anderwald and need to let you know that we won’t be able to provide you any information just yet on Banning Lewis Ranch rezoning processes. The annexation agreement, the master plan and zoning status, and the shared-obligation study will likely impact traditional master plan amendment, rezoning and use variance options. Planning will be working with the City Attorney on this matter. Between vacation schedules, they do not anticipate being able to address this until the week of July 11.
In an undated filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Ultra investors had this to say about Ultra Petroleum: "Investors are concerned about the lifecycle impacts of hydraulic fracturing operations because the fracturing of each well requires moving literally millions of gallons of water, chemicals, and wastewater; therefore environmental hazards are present at every step in this process and
these environmental impacts can result in very substantial business risks as well. The company
provides nominal information in its opposition statement and leaves out key information as
The filing then outlines stockholder concerns in detail, including this statement:
Ultra Resources, a subsidiary of Ultra Petroleum, has received high profile media attention for poor environmental practices. Several of Ultra Petroleum’s board members, including its CEO,
serve as officers of Ultra Resources raising concerns about proper oversight.
* Ultra Resources was exposed in a front page article in The New York Times about
environmental impacts of fracking.
—In 2009 Ultra Resources sent 155,000 gallons of wastewater with high levels of
radioactivity to nine different towns across Pennsylvania to be spread on roads
to suppress dust.
—The water came from two gas wells in Tioga County and contained radium at
almost 700 times the levels allowed in drinking water.
—With rain or the melting of snow or ice, drilling waste spread on roads could
potentially wash into rivers and streams.
* In 2010, Ultra Resources had 47 environmental violations in the Marcellus Shale.
Ultra's position contained in the SEC filing was that "fracturing is highly and effectively
regulated at the state level, that it [Ultra] has sufficiently communicated information on this issue and that it already has the systems in place to minimize potential risks associated with the process."