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Federal court challenge settled; Geokinetics cleared for seismic testing on Monroeville roads

Dillon Carr
| Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, 9:42 a.m.
An Apex Energy drilling-rig operation
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
An Apex Energy drilling-rig operation

Monroeville and a seismic testing company have reached a settlement in a federal court case challenging the municipality's recently passed regulations related to gas and oil development.

Texas-based Geokinetics had been seeking a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to allow it to perform seismic testing on Monroeville roads. The municipality in June denied a request by the company to use its roads for the testing, then passed more stringent regulations regarding oil and gas development. Geokinetics filed its lawsuit in October, a month after the new law was put in place.

The law requires companies to pay $1,000 to obtain a permit, notify nearby property owners in advance of testing and have a $2 million liability insurance policy.

As part of the settlement, Geokinetics agreed to comply with about 90 percent of the municipality's ordinance, Monroeville Solicitor Robert Wratcher said. He said a settlement was necessary because Geokinetics applied for permits to use municipal roads before Monroeville's ordinance became effective.

“If they prevailed (in court), Geokinetics had the right to seismic test without regulations because they applied prior to Monroeville passing the ordinance,” Wratcher said.

According to Wratcher, Geokinetics under the settlement:

• Will not be allowed to perform seismic testing on roads that are within 50 feet of any structure. The existing setback was 100 feet.

• Does not have to provide pre- and post-testing inspections on municipal properties.

All other provisions found in the municipality's ordinance will be followed by Geokinetics, he said.

Attorney Kevin Gormly of the energy law firm Steptoe & Johnson, which represented Geokinetics in the case, was not immediately available for comment.

According to Monroeville's website, there are 158 roads in the municipality on which Geokinetics could perform seismic testing. Monroeville oil and gas exploration company Huntley & Huntley hired Geokinetics this year to perform seismic tests in a 200-mile radius that includes Monroeville.

The procedure often precedes fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to extract oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure water, sand or gravel and chemicals. Huntley & Huntley has said it does not plan do develop fracking wells in Monroeville, but the testing will help the company determine if drilling operations are viable in areas bordering the municipality.

Wratcher said that other companies wanting to do seismic testing will have to follow the regulations found in the ordinance.

“I think it's a really good settlement — I'm happy that we were able to work something out,” Wratcher said.

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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