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Elizabeth Township proceeds with list for leasing options

Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 2:16 a.m.

Elizabeth Township officials are compiling a list of township and Elizabeth Township Authority-owned properties to be put out for bid so that natural gas companies would have the option to lease their mineral rights.

Commissioners unanimously voted 6-0 at Monday evening's meeting to contact the authority and have township manager Richard Janus begin property identification. Commission president Gene Francesconi was absent.

The idea was proposed by Commissioner Robert Rhoderick Jr., who said the township is missing out on millions of dollars in potential revenue from approximately 500 acres of combined land between the township and its authoritytary authority.

“We could be looking at up-front royalty payments of maybe $1 million to $2 million,” he said. “When they drill, we might be able to add $1 million to $2 million a year for the first three or four years depending on what the royalties are ... We could do a lot with $1 million a year. We could tear some of these houses down. There's a lot of stuff that we could do that we just can't do now ... They're drilling no matter what. We can't stop them. We've already come to that conclusion.”

Township Solicitor Patricia McGrail said the state regulates the oil and gas industry, and the township cannot prohibit drilling in the municipality.

Rhoderick said companies would perform deed searches to determine who owns the mineral rights to the properties once bids are out, and there will be a public hearing to get residents' input. He said approximately 40 percent of township residents already have leasing agreements with gas companies.

“We're not talking about drilling on township property or anything like that. That's a whole separate ball game,” Rhoderick said. “If you own property and you own the mineral rights, the oil and gas companies will come in and lease those mineral rights.”

Rhoderick said he spoke with Allegheny County Elections Division manager Mark Wolosik, who said asking residents if they are in favor of leasing township property mineral rights to natural gas companies is not a valid ballot question.

“I wish it would have been a ballot referendum question and it would have been an easy fix,” Rhoderick said. “You're going to have some people who are for it, and you're going to have some people who are against it.”

Commissioners passed six ordinances in March that opened the door for communication and negotiations with EQT Corp. and Huntley & Huntley Inc. — two drilling companies that already approached the township with interest — and McDonald Land Services, the company responsible for geophysical testing.

The ordinances will revise the scope of projects funded by non-electoral debt; increase the application fee for companies to drill for oil and gas from $5,000 to $10,000; provide zoning for natural gas compressor stations; regulate any geophysical testing operations; provide for regulation of door-to-door solicitation; and extend an additional five-year period for the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act.

Rhoderick said he spoke with Huntley & Huntley officials at Elizabeth Forward Middle School and had informal discussions with EQT Corp. earlier this year. Neither company submitted formal proposals to the township.

Commissioners Monday evening unanimously passed a motion giving permission to Ion Geophysical Co., working through McDonald Land Services, to conduct a 3-D geophysical survey on 30.57 acres of township-owned land.

Commissioners approved a geophysical testing operations permit for Tesla Exploration Inc., another company working with Ion Geophysical Co.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or



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