Residents and officials in Peters got their first peek Monday at a revamped ordinance aimed at better regulating gas well drilling in the Marcellus Shale and its related activities.
More than two dozen residents turned out for a public hearing into the changes, made necessary because some gas well drilling regulations adopted by council in 2011 became illegal with the passage of the state's Act 13.
The act, passed by the state Legislature in February 2012, establishes statewide rules for gas well drillers and pre-empts local governments from regulating much of the industry. Several key provisions of the law are on hold and now being considered by the state Supreme Court, after a small group of municipalities, including Peters, challenged the statute as unconstitutional.
Officials in Peters passed a local shale ordinance in August 2011, months before Act 13 was enacted into law and now find themselves responsible for tweaking their ordinance to make it legal.
"Basically we can't regulate how gas well drilling is done, but we can regulate where," said Peters manager Michael Silvestri.
Major aspects of the original ordinance, such as a provision calling for a 40-acre minimum property size for drilling, will be left intact, Mr. Silvestri said.
Only those parts of the ordinance that would continue to be in conflict with Act 13 --even if the Supreme Court appeal were successful -- are being eliminated or revamped, Mr. Silvestri said.
Some of the items to be eliminated include water, soil and other pre-drilling testing that would have been required by the township and the types of engines that may be used in compressor stations and processing plants. The state Department of Environmental Protection has been charged with regulating those aspects of drilling, according to Act 13.
The revamped ordinance would allow for conventional, vertical drilling in areas with a 10-acre minimum. Unlike drilling in the Marcellus Shale, conventional drilling is shallow and has been done for decades.
The key changes in the ordinance revolve around bonding and insurance, including a requirement for a $500,000 performance bond for companies conducting seismic testing, along with $5 million in liability insurance for those companies.
Ronnie Keith McKay, project manager for Geokinetics, a Houston, Texas-based seismic testing firm, came to council in April to introduce himself and explain how seismic testing in the township would be done. The company has been hired b EQT to map the subsurface, which has leased 82 square miles in the eastern section of the township for drilling.
Mr. McKay spoke again on Monday, assuring residents that the seismic testing procedure is safe and wouldn't damage buildings, underground wells or other structures.
The testing would be done primarily with "thumper" or "vibrator" trucks, which 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 47,000-pound, garbage-truck-sized 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.
"We only use a charge in remote areas where a vibrator truck can't get to," he said.
The data is used to map subsurface formations and give drilling companies a better idea of where natural gas deposits may be located.
The trucks would be at least 50 feet from any structures and a third party would conduct real-time monitoring of vibrations through a seismograph, Mr. McKay said.
Mr. McKay said his company had no problem with the liability insurance requirement, but he asked if the $500,000 bond could be cut in half for his company, because it will be working in just one-third of the township.
Included in the preparation and permitting stage of the process -- where the company now is -- is a hazard assessment, which identifies features such as unmapped coal mines, roads and bridges with weight limits and other issues that could affect seismic testing.
He said the preparation and permitting for the seismic testing takes several months, and that data recording -- the actual seismic testing -- would take about 35-40 days.
Several residents concerned about seismic testing spoke at the hearing, including Michael Getto, a licensed geologist, who recommended several other requirements for the proposed ordinance.
Resident Jet Miskis said she was disappointed that council was "gutting" the ordinance that took two years to craft.
"We shouldn't be touching this ordinance," said Ms. Miskis, one of the organizers of a Marcellus Shale community group that sought to educated residents about drilling in recent years. "Act 13 is not resolved."
Ms. Miskis expressed concern about shallow waterlines, as did veterinarian and horse owner John Stepusin.
Resident Tom Harmon had an issue with geothermal fields located beneath his home and front yard, and solar panels on the roof of his home. He questioned whether subtle vibrations could damage any of the expensive equipment that is used to heat and cool his house.
"In my opinion, it's not enough energy to cause you a problem," said Mr. McKay, who said he wanted to discuss the issue further with Mr. Harmon to ensure no damage was done.
Resident Tim Kern said he was concerned that council was "repealing the teeth of the ordinance," but council members assured him that wasn't the case and that they were simply tweaking the regulations to bring them in line with the new state law.
"We're cleaning up the statute," council President Frank Arcuri said.
Councilman David Ball agreed.
"We're in there fighting," he said. "Nobody is capitulating."
Mr. Silvestri is expected to adjust the ordinance further based on Monday's comments and plans to bring it forward for council approval in the coming weeks.
Janice Crompton: email@example.com or 412-851-1867.