Despite opposition, Plum's council OKs Marcellus shale well pad permit
An oil and gas exploration company got the green light from Plum council last week to proceed with its plans to build a Marcellus shale well pad in the borough.
Huntley and Huntley of Monroeville is developing its Midas well on 92 acres near Coxcomb Hill Road in Plum. Company Vice President Paul Burke has said construction of the well pad for the hydraulic fracturing project is expected to start next month.
About 150 people attended the meeting during which council voted 6-1 to approve a land use permit for Midas.
“I have some real concerns about water quality in regards to fracking,” Mayor Richard Hrivnak said. “You can't drink money. Once the water is gone, it's gone.”
The audience erupted in applause after the mayor's statements, but not everyone in the packed council chambers was against fracking — a process of extracting gas by injecting rock with high-pressure water, sand and chemicals.
“Please don't listen to scare tactics about drilling and fracking,” said Susan McClelland, who lives near the Midas site. “The facts are that over 10,000 shale wells have been safely drilled in Pennsylvania alone.”
Matt Kelso, a Plum resident and manager of data and technology for the FracTracker Alliance, spoke against Marcellus shale drilling in general. The alliance is a nonprofit oil and gas industry watchdog group.
“What happens once they drill? We don't know,” he said.
Councilman Dave Vento gave a presentation against well development in the borough before voting against approval of the land use permit. Vento held up a map showing six potential well sites being considered by Huntley and Huntley in Plum and nearby areas. The map was developed by the Plum Municipal Authority with information from the exploration company, which would need to buy water for its fracking operations in the region.
“These others, if we don't try and do something to stop them, they'll be coming one right after the other,” Vento said. “Do I want to go to court? Absolutely not. I don't want to go to court... but if we have to go to court to fight for this community, heck yeah.”
Huntley and Huntley has said that speculative drilling sites are always changing and that the map developed earlier this year was no longer accurate. Burke, who was at the meeting but did not address council, said the company plans to pursue more well pads in Plum.
“But we don't know how many or where yet. And when we do, we'll go through the process just like every other well,” he said.
Councilman Paul Dern said governments cannot prevent drilling from happening in the municipality, but they could regulate where it takes place through zoning laws.
According to Plum Finance Director Michael Whitico, the zoning ordinance now allows drilling anywhere in the borough. Whitico said council will examine updating the borough's zoning ordinance and will hold a public hearing 6 p.m. Nov. 6.
“The only thing we can do as a borough is say where we are allowing drilling to take place,” Dern said.