Gas well drilling, testing law approved in Peters

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Gas well drilling companies and related industries will be able to explore and drill for natural gas in Peters, within a set of guidelines approved Monday.

Although the township established a mineral extraction policy last year, some of it conflicted with the state's Act 13 and needed to be adjusted. Council also hadn't addressed the concept of seismic testing until recently, when a Texas company requested permission to chart the Marcellus Shale formation in the eastern part of the township.

After two public hearings, council voted 4-0-1 for the modified ordinance, which establishes ground rules and limits for seismic testing companies and other industries. Councilmen Frank Arcuri, James Berquist, Robert Lewis and David Ball voted in favor, while Councilman Gary Steigel Jr. abstained. Members Monica Merrell and Michael McCaig were absent.

Included in the changes are requirements for seismic testing companies to use so-called "thumper" trucks rather than explosive charges to gather data.

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 be able to use the charges only 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 new 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-based seismic testing firm, objected to it during the public hearing, officials did not change 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 for drilling company EQT, and the township recently heard from McDonald Land Services, which is planning to do the same on the western end of the township for drilling company Range Resources.

Removed from the ordinance was language that required drillers to test water and soil and to use electric instead of diesel engines for gas processing.

Previously approved zoning rules, such as a minimum of 10 acres for drilling, along with buffer and noise requirements, have remained in place.

Council members also approved traffic calming measures on Maple Lane by a 4-1 vote after a majority of residents on that street requested help with speeding vehicles.

A traffic calming committee studied the issue and recommended two speed humps at Todd Circle and near Brave Run Road. Traffic engineers felt a third stop sign also would be needed at the intersection with Julrich Drive. A majority of residents on the street approved the proposed changes, which will begin immediately.

Mr. Arcuri said that although residents are within their rights to request traffic calming measures, he is fed up with the process.

"I just think this is ridiculous," he said. "We are going to be the township of speed humps. You can't regulate everything."

Mr. Ball agreed and voted against the measure.

"I think we keep tossing money to make ourselves feel better," he said.

Council members said they couldn't find viable alternates but said they will begin exploring the issue.

"Something has to change," Mr. Arcuri said. "We need different solutions to this problem."

Council also thanked township solicitor William Johnson, 69, for his 35 years of service to the township with a commemorative clock and railway trip for two to the Grand Canyon. He recently stepped down as solicitor and was replaced last month by lawyer John Smith.

In other business, council:

• Reopened the 2013 budget for about $100,000 in unexpected expenditures, including the purchase of bulletproof vests and dash cameras for police and costs related to several new ordinances.

• Approved a request by Richard Beinhauer of Justabout Road to create a small side lot for a family member.

• OK'd a change order for $5,987 for a new HVAC system being installed in the municipal building. The increase adds about 1.2 percent to the $489,200 contract.

marcellusshale - neigh_south - neigh_washington

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867. First Published October 17, 2013 1:52 AM


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