Findlay residents near airport raise concerns about proximity of gas well drilling to their homes
February 27, 2014 12:00 AM
Dan Bitz, a Consol Energy representative, shows Findlay residents a map of proposed drilling around Pittsburgh International Airport.
Findlay supervisors Janet Craig, left, and Thomas Gallant, right, ask questions about the drilling plan around Pittsburgh International Airport.
Findlay residents listen as representatives of Consol Energy discuss the plans for drilling near Pittsburgh International Airport.
Bob Sterner, of Imperial, addresses the board of supervisors at a public meeting on drilling plans near Pittsburgh International Airport.
By Andrea Iglar
Neighbors of Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay say they want to protect their homes from the impact of a $500 million, 20-year natural gas drilling project set to start in the spring.
Consol Energy Inc., in a deal with Allegheny County, plans to drill 45 Marcellus Shale wells on about 8,800 acres of airport property, primarily in Findlay.
About 200 people attended a Findlay supervisors’ hearing on the plan last Thursday, including a large group of Imperial Pointe residents who supported air monitoring in their neighborhood and asked for a bigger buffer between their homes and a well pad.
Shawn Mundis of Findlay said the drilling project is “a good infusion of income into the county, but we, the Imperial Pointe residents, are bearing all the risk."
The driller, meanwhile, requested permission to install temporary worker housing on airport land during drilling. Six wells would be drilled from well pad No. 2, less than a quarter-mile from some homes in Imperial Pointe, a neighborhood just south of the airport property.
"This is the most controversial well location,” said supervisors’ chairman Tom Gallant, who lives in Imperial Pointe.
Homeowners asked Findlay supervisors to require the driller to move the pad so it’s a half mile away from their neighborhood.
Residents said a larger setback would help lessen the impact of noise and emissions while providing a larger buffer in case of an emergency such as the recent fire at Chevron’s well in Dunkard, Greene County.
“The additional setback of well pad number two, that’s our insurance policy,” Imperial Pointe resident Stacy Faulk said. “That’s our way of proactively protecting the residents to reduce some of the very real risks that surround natural gas development in all of its stages.”
Blaine Lucas, the attorney for Consol Energy, said there is “no real legal basis” for providing a half-mile buffer.
“Whether we can move that well [pad] or not, I don’t know,” said supervisor Ray Chappell after the meeting. He expected the board would seek legal advice on the issue.
The township’s gas law does not list a minimum distance between wells and homes, but it reserves the supervisors' right to require increased setbacks, or to attach other conditions, to protect public health, safety and welfare.
The state’s Act 13 requires gas wells to sit at least 500 feet from homes.
Imperial Pointe is 1,180 feet from the edge of the well pad, and residents are asking for a setback of at least 2,640 feet.
The distance between the five other well pads and their closest homes ranges from 1,430 feet to 5,760 feet.
Findlay supervisors also must decide whether to accept the township Planning Commission’s December recommendation to require Consol Energy to provide third-party air monitoring in Imperial Pointe.
The Allegheny County Health Department announced in January that it will begin monitoring air quality in the community before drilling begins and continue for at least a year after gas production begins.
Mr. Lucas said the county plan is enough and Consol Energy shouldn’t be required to add a monitor.
Ms. Faulk of Imperial Pointe said county monitoring would last only 18 months and after that, the nearest monitor would be more than 10 miles away in South Fayette.
Construction work for the well pad near Imperial Pointe is expected to begin in March, followed by drilling in July and completion a year later. Site access will be from Route 30.
Mr. Chappell, the supervisor, suggested starting with a well pad farther inland as a test case because it would be built around the same time, anyway.
But Consol Energy officials said starting with the pad near Imperial Pointe was the most efficient approach.
The drilling firm asked supervisors for a modification to allow workers to temporarily live onsite during vertical and horizontal drilling. Township gas regulations prohibit the housing.
Four to eight trailers with 15 to 30 workers would be onsite through August 2018, said Daniel Bitz, a manager with Consol Energy in Cecil.
Supervisors had approved an exception last May for driller Range Resources-Appalachia to house up to 15 rig workers for three weeks during a three-well project along Clinton-Frankfort Road.
In addition to 45 Marcellus Shale wells, Consol Energy’s airport plan may include another 15 wells to access the Upper Devonian, the shale layer above the Marcellus, Mr. Bitz said.
The project also includes building 11 miles of on-site gas collection lines, about 6 miles of off-site lines to carry the gas to market, 12 miles of water supply lines, one freshwater impoundment and two impoundments for waste fluids that would be reused for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
About 40 million gallons of water will come from the Findlay Township Municipal Authority, Mr. Bitz said.
Minimal flaring is planned, said Joseph Zoka of Consol Energy.
Findlay supervisors voted 3-0 to continue the public hearing to March 12, with the option to push it back to March 27 to review environmental and emergency response reports.
"In light of Greene County, the emergency response plan is critical,” supervisor Janet Craig said. "We want to see if there were an incident, how it would be handled."
The environmental assessment report is available for public viewing through March 22 during regular business hours in the municipal buildings in Findlay, North Fayette, Moon and Robinson, Washington County.
Findlay supervisors must decide on the drilling project applications within 45 days of closing the public hearing.
"Hopefully we can come to some sort of compromise or agreement that we can all live with,” Mr. Gallant said.
Correction, posted Feb. 27, 2014: The last name of Dan Bitz, a Consol Energy representative, has been corrected in a photo caption.
Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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