Changes outlined in seismic testing law in Peters

Township council will vote on ordinance Oct. 14

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Peters council members on Monday outlined changes they expect to approve next month regarding seismic testing and other gas well drilling activities in the township.

Council gathered input into a revamped ordinance aimed at regulating Marcellus Shale work at a public hearing Aug. 22 and plans to vote on the issue at its Oct. 14 meeting. A previous ordinance passed last summer is in conflict with the state's Act 13 and must be revised.

Among the changes that came about after accepting public input are requirements for seismic testing companies to use so-called "thumper" trucks to gather data rather than explosive charges.

The 47,000-pound, garbage-truck-sized vehicles use a 7,000-pound steel plate to pound the ground, causing vibration that underground data sensors use to chart rock formations -- such as the Marcellus Shale -- deep in the earth.

In areas where the cumbersome vehicles can't drive, explosives, such as dynamite, are set off in small drill holes to gather the data. The 2.2-pound charges are dropped into bore holes 20 feet deep.

Companies will only be able to use the charges if they present a detailed explanation of why they are necessary. Council must approve their use, as must property owners, who have to submit written permission. The explosives cannot be set off within 325 feet of any structure, well or spring, according to the proposed ordinance.

Other changes include a requirement for third-party inspectors to monitor seismic activity for impact on structures and to make reports available to property owners who claim damages were done to their property.

Seismic testing will be limited to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and no testing will be permitted Sunday.

Although a project manager from Geokinetics, a Houston, Texas-based seismic testing firm, objected to it during the public hearing, officials have not changed a requirement for testing companies to submit a $500,000 performance bond and to carry $5 million in liability insurance.

Geokinetics is planning to map the subsurface of 82 square miles in the eastern section of the township for drilling company EQT, and the township recently heard from McDonald Land Services, which is planning to do the same on the other end of the township for drilling company Range Resources.

McDonald offered the township $5 per acre, or $29.13, to allow it to conduct seismic testing on about 5.8 acres of open space that the township owns in Colony Manor.

Council voted unanimously to reject the offer.

"I don't know these people. I'm not going to expose residents to that," said council President Frank Arcuri, who questioned whether workers had criminal and child abuse record clearances.

Also Monday, council said it would begin interviewing candidates for solicitor after longtime solicitor William Johnson said he would resign.

Mr. Johnson, 69, has served as solicitor for 35 years and said he is scaling back his business and is in the process of "semi-retiring." He said he would continue representing other municipalities because they don't take up as much time. His last day is scheduled for Oct. 14. Eight firms have applied for the position.

Also Monday, council:

• Voted to allow Our Lady of Victory Maronite Catholic Church in Scott to advertise an upcoming Lebanese food festival Sept. 20-22 with a 4-by-20-foot banner across a walking trail bridge over McMurray Road. The township ordinarily doesn't get requests from nonresidents for use of the bridge, but the church's pastor, Rev. Rudolph Wakim, told council there are parishioners from his church living in the township.

• Tabled the resignation of David Vogel from the planning commission. In his letter of resignation, Mr. Vogel cited the need for "new blood" on the five-member commission, but council hopes to change his mind before voting on the resignation. Mr. Vogel has been a member since 2005, and his latest term is set to expire in January 2016.

• Voted 5-1 to participate in a tax claim sale to purchase the former Bower Hill one-room schoolhouse. A woman who lived in the schoolhouse for many years died and her heirs are $6,000 behind in tax payments. Though the structure, which dates to 1871, has serious damage, council members said they felt it was a piece of history that should be preserved, if possible. The building is one of three original schoolhouses in the township. The other two are being used as businesses. Mr. Arcuri dissented and Councilwoman Monica Merrell was absent.

• Reversed a decision made last month to charge caregivers $1 per day when they are assisting township recreation center members. According to the U.S. Justice Department, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits the township from charging caregivers to assist people with disabilities. Caregivers and baby sitters won't be charged for using the center.

marcellusshale - neigh_south - neigh_washington

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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