Emergency response plan prepared in Findlay for airport drilling

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Local fire, police and ambulance services are part of the emergency response plan developed for a natural gas drilling project at Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay.

Representatives of Consol Energy Inc. presented the safety plan to township supervisors March 12 as part of their applications to drill up to 45 Marcellus Shale and 15 Upper Devonian wells on about 8,800 acres of airport property.

Over 20 years, Allegheny County is expected to gain $500 million from the project, which will yield an estimated 280 billion cubic feet to 800 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

According to the safety plan, if Consol Energy workers discovered an emergency, their first outside contact would be the airport’s 24/7 communications hub, called AIRCOMM.

The airport center then could dispatch local safety services such as the Findlay, Moon and state police; the Imperial, Moon and Crescent volunteer fire departments; the Robinson, NorthWest and Valley emergency medical services; the Findlay, Moon and North Fayette emergency management groups; and Allegheny County fire, police and emergency personnel.

Lou Barletta, vice president of safety for Consol Energy, said the company has planned for worst-case scenarios by building on emergency response frameworks that already exist in local townships, in the county and at the airport.

“No stone has been unturned, and no resource left on the sidelines, in terms of delivering this project safely and efficiently,” he said.

Rick Wilson, chief of the 51-member Allegheny County Airport Authority Fire Department, said the collaborative plan has involved probably hundreds of meetings.

“Through this cooperation, I truly believe this plan is effective and it will work in the years to come,” he said.

If an emergency requires an evacuation, Findlay police will notify residents via SwiftReach 911, a program that delivers recorded messages to community members via telephone, email, text message, pager or teletypewriter phone.

Police Chief Jesse Lesko encouraged residents to sign up for SwiftReach on the police page of the township website, www.findlaytwp.org.

Findlay planning director Chris Caruso said the township’s existing emergency operation plan identifies evacuation routes and shelter locations, but those generally aren’t revealed to the public beforehand for security reasons.

He said the township would send a survey to homes within a half mile of the airport’s six well pads asking for residents’ contact numbers and family data.

“That way we will have their critical information [so] in case there is an evacuation we know who’s in that household, if there are pets in that household,” Mr. Caruso said.

Bill Stout, who lives in the Imperial Pointe neighborhood, said the emergency plan should include more information about what is expected from the West Allegheny School District, business owners and residents in case of a problem.

According to the plan, first responders may assist with efforts such as traffic control, site security and firefighting, depending on the type of emergency.

Potential hazards may include fire, loss of well control, unplanned gas release, spills, equipment wrecks, utility damage, illness/injury, sinkholes and unauthorized entry, the plan says.

Risks to the public associated with a well pad emergency may include fire spreading to surrounding properties, toxic or combustible gas fumes and drifting smoke that obscures roadway visibility, the plan says.

Craig Hunter, a safety supervisor with Consol Energy, said the company has sponsored training sessions for county and municipal first responders to learn about well operations and potential hazards.

Classes have been held by the Allegheny County Fire Academy, the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, Consol Energy and a well control company, he said.

“Ongoing training exercises will occur throughout the life of the project,” Mr. Hunter said.

Residents of Imperial Pointe repeated their request for supervisors to move well pad No. 2, which sits less than a quarter-mile from their neighborhood.

Homeowners requested the township either impose a half-mile setback or require the well pad to be moved to a more distant, alternative location listed in an environmental report.

Mr. Caruso said the environmental assessment concluded that the proposed site of well pad No. 2 is the “preferred location” and would cause fewer environmental consequences than two alternative locations that were required to be examined in the study.

The report was reviewed by numerous state agencies, he said.

Nancy Volk of Imperial Pointe said moving the well pad farther away would cause the driller inconvenience and cost more, but it would alleviate residents’ concerns about air and water quality, explosions and property values.

“It’s going to be a little bit more effort, but it gives all of us residents in Findlay Township some peace of mind and safety,” Ms. Volk said.

About 75 people attended the March 12 meeting, a continuation of a February public hearing on Consol Energy’s conditional use requests.

The three-member board of supervisors closed the hearing and acknowledged they must vote on the applications within 45 days.

Findlay supervisors must decide on Consol Energy’s request for temporary worker housing and the township planning commission’s recommendation to require third-party air monitoring in Imperial Pointe.

They also may consider adding setbacks or requiring other actions as conditions of approval.

Supervisor Ray Chappell said he holds drilling leases with Range Resources, but the township attorney has advised him that he may vote on the Consol Energy matter because it is a different drilling company.

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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