Upper Burrell board to rule on proposal for 2 oil wells
A ruling on two proposed oil wells in Upper Burrell is expected within 45 days.
Penneco Oil Co. has requested conditional-use permits to drill conventional oil wells on properties off Milligantown and Turkey Ridge roads.
Attorney Harlan Stone acted as a fact-finder for township supervisors on Wednesday evening and presided over a hearing at which Penneco presented its plans. Stone also serves as the solicitor for the township's zoning hearing board.
Stone said both properties were zoned RA, residential agricultural. Based on the township's ordinance that was amended in 2011, Stone said wells are permitted as a conditional use. That means the applications must be approved by the township supervisors, who can set conditions on drilling.
David Smail, a Penneco land and engineering supervisor, testified that a vertical oil well is planned on a 20-acre site at 3301 Milligantown Road near the intersection with Hartge Road. County property records indicate the land is owned by Patrick and Diana Tutelo.
The property is located on the border of Upper Burrell and Lower Burrell; the well site is in Upper Burrell.
Smail said a horizontal oil well is planned on a 75-acre site at 2450 Turkey Ridge Road. County records indicate that land is owned by Walter and Sue Keller.
The land is on the border of Upper Burrell and Washington Township; the well site is in Upper Burrell.
Smail said both properties have existing wells.
He said neither of the new wells will tap into the deep Marcellus shale.
Penneco officials said no hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would be used at the Tutelo well, but it would be needed for the horizontal Keller well.
The Keller well would use a closed-loop system in which fracking water and chemicals are recycled and are not stored in an open impoundment pond.
Penneco officials could not say whether flaring, or burning off well gases, would be used at either site until the wells are drilled.
Ben Wallace, Penneco's chief operating officer, testified the company is using new technology that reduces their need to flare wells.
Smail said Penneco would work around the clock to drill both wells.
He estimated the Tutelo well would take about five days to drill; the Keller well could take three weeks.
Penneco could not say when drilling would start; representatives indicated the drilling schedule would be determined by the timing of permits and the availability of equipment.
Both wells have been permitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Residents question water safety, noise
Ron Demosky of Frederick Drive said his water well is within a few hundred feet of the Tutelo well. Although his home is connected to the public water system, Demosky said he uses the well water for drinking and questioned how he would know if drilling had impacted his water supply.
Smail said Penneco tests nearby water wells before the company starts drilling so it has a baseline, but generally it doesn't test water after drilling unless someone brings a problem to the company's attention.
Wallace told Demosky the most common problem associated with drilling is temporary cloudy water caused by underground material that is disturbed.
He suggested Demosky contact the DEP if he has any concerns; Wallace said the department would act as Demosky's advocate and would require Penneco to provide him with an alternate water source and fix the problem if Penneco is found liable.
Ron Slabe, an Angelcrest Drive resident who has been active in ensuring drilling does not negatively impact Upper Burrell, questioned whether supervisors could set conditions involving noise control.
At the Keller site, Smail and Wallace testified they would work with sound engineers to study the operation and set up equipment in ways that limit noise pollution.
Smail said Penneco didn't expect noise to be an issue for neighbors of the Tutelo site, since it will be a shorter and less-involved operation.
Leon Yurkin, a member of the township's planning commission, said the commission recommended approval as long as a list of criteria was met.
Amanda Cashman, an attorney representing Penneco, said the issues had largely been addressed through their application.
Also present Wednesday was Upper Burrell Supervisor Allen Uhler, a Turkey Ridge Road resident who did not comment.
Township Solicitor Steve Yakopec said supervisors would need to determine whether Stone would rule on Penneco's application, or if he was to make a recommendation to the supervisors who would make a final decision.
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.