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Penn Hills reverses course, allows seismic tests

Dillon Carr
| Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 11:33 p.m.
Steve McCrossin, president of Precision Geophysical Inc., locates a geo-phone used for seismic testing.
Steve McCrossin, president of Precision Geophysical Inc., locates a geo-phone used for seismic testing.

Penn Hills council last week voted to allow seismic testing on municipal property two months after banning it.

Solicitor Craig Alexander said he received a letter from an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson, a firm that specializes in energy law, shortly after council voted against allowing seismic testing on municipal properties. Alexander said a potential lawsuit challenging the original ban was not one the municipality could win.

“The law is on the side of the gas companies in these cases,” Alexander said.

In July, council voted to prevent an oil and gas company from performing the tests on municipal property. Texas-based Geokinetics USA planned to do seismic testing on 37 municipal properties, totaling around 390 acres. Council members J-LaVon Kincaid and Gary Underwood abstained from voting.

This time around, council members voted 5-0 in favor of the testing.

“It was very upsetting for mayor and council, but we believe we had no other choice — we had to present it again,” Mayor Sara Kuhn said during the meeting.

Ethan Shula, a geologist who works for Huntley & Huntley, the Monroeville oil and gas exploration company that hired Geo­kinetics, said after the meeting that seismic testing could begin on Penn Hills municipal property in early December. The company plans to have testing done throughout a 200-mile radius in Western Pennsylvania.

The testing — part of the exploration process that often precedes Marcellus shale drilling — recently has become controversial in the region, because if gas is found, testing can lead to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — a process of extracting gas by injecting rock with high-pressure water, sand and chemicals.

Upper Burrell residents in February expressed opposition to the company's seismic testing plans. Oakmont, South Fayette and Monroeville all adopted ordinances this year regulating seismic testing.

None of the ordinances that regulate without banning the testing have been challenged in court, but Huntley & Huntley officials said they are studying the most recently passed one in Monroeville to determine whether to take such action.

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

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