Ordinance sets precursor to drilling in North Huntingdon

Township defines rules for seismic testing, gives OK

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North Huntingdon has a new law on the books to regulate seismic testing in the township and has given permission for such tests to be done on a parcel of township property and at other sites.

"It's all a precursor to drilling that will come down the road," Commissioner Rich Gray noted.

Commissioners on Thursday passed the ordinance, which Mr. Gray said protects the township and residents from damage and gives property owners control over how and where testing will be done and what methods will be used.

Thumper trucks, vibrating machines, weight drops and explosives are being used across Pennsylvania to map the layers of substrata beneath the earth to find Marcellus Shale and gas deposits.

The seismic testers drill test holes and place small charges in them. Other devices measure the reflection of vibrations from the explosions to help map the rock formations and identify the prime deposits of gas, Mr. Gray said.

The township's new ordinance will require anyone wanting to do such testing in the township to get a permit first at a cost of $500.

"The use of energy source operations in connection with oil and gas exploration activities in North Huntingdon has become a potential safety issue and concern," the ordinance states.

According to the ordinance, a permit request must include the person's name and address, the type of explosives or other method of vibration to be used, the purpose of the testing, and a map showing a designated area, including all points of testing and the energy source to be used at each point.

The applicant also must submit a traffic control plan for any operation that will impede traffic on public rights of way; insurance information, including the insurance carrier name, type and amount of insurance covering the operations; and the name and telephone number of the person to call if a claim for personal or property damage is made at some point.

If approved by the commissioners, each permit for exploration will be valid for one year, and the applicant must inform the commissioners a minimum of seven business days before testing starts. All seismic testing will be limited to areas selected by the commissioners and shown on a map kept in the township office.

A representative of the company doing the testing must inform the owner of each property in person or by certified mail before any tests are conducted and tell the property owner when testing will start and which energy testing source will be used.

The person applying for the permit also must provide each property owner with insurance information upon request.

The ordinance states that the applicant will find out the location or get maps of all water wells, septic systems, underground hazardous waste storage sites, and water, sewer, oil, gas and chemical pipelines and other underground utilities and will conduct testing in such a way as not to damage or interfere with them.

No explosive charges may be set off within 300 feet of any water well, building or underground hazardous waste disposal site, the ordinance says.

After the ordinance passed, commissioners voted to have McDonald Land Services LLC do seismic testing at Turner Valley Park, Braddock's Trail Park and on a parcel the township owns near the Falcon Ridge plan.

Administrators said the township someday may get revenue from drilling on township properties.

Anne Cloonan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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