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New Monroeville law puts limits on pre-fracking tests

Dillon Carr
| Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, 10:12 a.m.
Elisa Beck of Sustainable Monroeville, an environmental advocacy group, addresses the Monroeville council and administration during a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
Dillon Carr | Tribune-Review
Elisa Beck of Sustainable Monroeville, an environmental advocacy group, addresses the Monroeville council and administration during a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Monroeville is now the third governmental body in the Pittsburgh area to regulate seismic testing.

Council adopted the regulations with a 9-0 vote at a recent meeting. Key parts of the ordinance require companies to:

• Obtain a one-year permit for $1,000 and notify the municipality 30 days before any testing begins. The company must also put $5,000 in escrow to cover costs associated with granting a permit.

• Have a $500,000 performance bond guaranteeing completion of the work and a $2 million general liability insurance policy covering the municipality.

• Notify property owners within 150 feet of testing, 100 feet of vibrating tests and 300 feet of explosive charge tests 30 days before any work occurs.

Communities have started to regulate seismic testing because it usually precedes the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — a process of extracting gas by injecting rock with high-pressure water, sand and chemicals.

South Fayette adopted an ordinance regulating the testing in 2012 and Oakmont passed a similar ordinance in July.

A Monroeville oil and gas exploration company, Huntley & Huntley, has hired a company to do seismic testing in the region. President Keith Mangini said before the ordinance was passed that his company would challenge regulations if it determined they were more stringent than what is allowed under state law. He has also said that his company does not plan to do Marcellus shale drilling in Monroeville.

“We are weighing the options available to us in light of the action of Monroeville council,” Huntley & Huntley Vice President Paul Burke, who is also an attorney for the company, wrote in an email. “We are disappointed that municipal council took an action last night that will negatively impact a company that has been headquartered in Monroeville for decades and that approached the permitting process with the municipality for this seismic survey in an open and transparent manner.”

He added that the ordinance sends a message to the business community that “can in no way be construed as favorable.”

In other action related to oil and gas development at the meeting, council voted to advertise an amended ordinance that would restrict companies from Marcellus shale drilling in all but heavy industrial zones. The amendment could be adopted as early as council's Oct. 10 meeting, Solicitor Robert Wratcher said.

Monroeville now allows drilling anywhere in the municipality.

Manager Tim Little said the amendment was spurred by residents' recent concerns that seismic testing would lead to fracking in Monroeville. The vote to advertise proposed restrictions on drilling drew applause from the audience at the meeting.

“I think it was brilliant,” said Elisa Beck, a Monroeville resident and founder of Sustainable Monroeville, an environmental advocacy group.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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