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No plans for Marshall to amend oil, gas drilling ordinance

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Marshall has no plans to amend its oil and gas drilling ordinance to allow a drilling company to set up well pads in places that are off limits, township officials said this week.

Some residential property owners have entered into speculative contracts, even though well heads aren't allowed in residential areas, Supervisors Chairman Thomas Madigan said, but that isn't a good enough reason to revisit the issue.

“They knew what the situation was when they signed the (contracts),” Madigan said.

An ordinance adopted in 2011 allows well heads only in Marshall's open space, public and conservation district zone. The only areas with that designation are two privately owned sportsmen's clubs, the township's two parks and 1,048 acres of state Game Land 203.

Township Manager Neil McFadden said Findlay-based PennEnergy Resources LLC told him that the Pennsylvania Game Commission said it wouldn't allow well heads in the game land.

PennEnergy informally asked Marshall in January to consider allowing well heads in a different area — the conservation residential district in the western part of the township.

“So if they put a well head in the western part of the township, they could drill down and turn 90 degrees and go right under the game lands to harvest the pockets of gas under the game lands and under the residential property in Marshall,” McFadden said.

Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said the state agency hasn't received a formal application to put well pads in the game land in Marshall, and wouldn't confirm whether there have been discussions on the issue.

The Game Commission has lease agreements that allow well pads on some of its game lands, Lau said, but Game Land 203 is unique because it's the only one in Allegheny County and it's heavily used by the public.

The commission would be unlikely to reduce hunting and trapping opportunities by allowing well heads there, Lau said. “It would be a hard sell,” he said.

PennEnergy Resources is investigating possible drilling sites in Marshall, but doesn't have definite plans, said Gregory D. Muse, president and chief operating officer.

“Obviously, we don't want to make an investment in an area where we're not welcome and where the ordinances aren't going to allow drilling. That's not something we're interested in, but we haven't heard any final decisions at this point,” Muse said.

Northeast Natural Resource Advisory Board Inc. has signed “land group” deals with Marshall property owners for 1,000 acres of residential land west of the game land, said Jarett Svihra, president of the Beaver Falls-based corporation.

“It's just a land group agreement that says we have the right to reach out to oil and gas development companies and to bring offers to the table,” he said. “More than likely, it looks like PennEnergy is the company interested in ... Marshall Township, but that remains to be seen.”

Among Northeast's land group in Marshall is resident Francois Bitz's 200 acres.

“Just because we have a marketing agreement with a group of people doesn't mean that they want the land,” cautioned Bitz, who has lease deals with PennEnergy Resources for 50 acres he owns in New Sewickley and 10 acres in Economy, the latter of which is contiguous to his Marshall property.

Marshall's oil and gas ordinance reflects the will of the majority of residents who voiced opinions on the topic, township supervisors said.

“Absent any request to change the ordinance, I'm opposed to a public hearing (on amending it),” board Vice Chairman Philip Troy said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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