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Shale tests worry Forward residents

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 1:26 a.m.

Nearly 60 Forward Township residents concerned with Marcellus shale drilling filled the municipal building Monday for a public meeting with officials from EQT Corp., Geokinetics, and Cougar Land Services.

The topic involved upcoming three-dimensional seismic surveys.

Geokinetics, based in Houston, Texas, was hired by EQT to conduct the testing. Cougar Land Services, also based in Houston, was hired to obtain necessary permits.

Geokinetics has conducted seismic tests of more than 2,500 square miles in Pennsylvania.

“I think we had a very productive meeting,” Linda Robertson, EQT media relations manager said after the meeting.

“People here were well-prepared and offered up some good questions. I think they got a lot of their concerns answered, too.

“These are the types of meetings we like to do, so we can get out there and hear what the people are concerned about.”

The 52-square-mile project, comprises Forward Township and all or portions of Elizabeth, Elizabeth Township, Clairton, Carroll Township, Monongahela, New Eagle, Union Township, South Park and Jefferson Hills.

“We have a lot of doors to knock on, and we're just getting started,” said Keith McKay, Geokinetics project manager.

“Just because those areas are included, doesn't necessarily mean we're going to be on everyone's property. We're just looking to get the permits done in case we need to run cables, use geophones, or even plant charges on the properties.”

McKay said most of the work will be done with “vibrators,” which are mounted on trucks that direct low-force vibrations into the ground.

“A lot of times people are shocked because they can be standing right next to the trucks and not even notice that the testing is going on,” McKay said.

Asked if the vibrations could affect homes, McKay said no.

“To be sure, we hire a third-party company to monitor homes as we come by with the units,” McKay said.

“They will be out in front of the testing and knocking on doors to request to be on the property and place monitors in the ground.

“This is just to protect the homes and make sure we aren't affecting anything.”

McKay said Geokinetics strives to not to affect daily lives of the property owners.

“If we have a cable with geophones running through a hay field, and you need to cut that hay, you call us and we'll have a crew come down and move that cable so you can cut,” McKay said.

“We'll just put it back when you're done. You'll see the geophones and the boxes. They have antennas coming out of the top. We don't expect you to lose a crop.”

A major concern of residents involved the effect of testing on water wells and natural springs, the primary water sources for many in the area.

“There shouldn't be any,” McKay said.

“That's part of the reason for the permits and why it is important to go along with us.

“With permission from the landowners, one of the steps of the process is to come out and survey all the culture in the area. When it is surveyed and mapped, we put in place the buffer zones.”

All the springs and wells will be marked using GPS systems.

Included in the seismic testing, 2.2-pound explosive charges are placed into 20-foot-deep holes. When the charges are detonated, there should be no seismic waves detected beyond 170 feet from the explosion sites.

“We've increased that buffer to 300 feet to be certain, though,” McKay added.

“We won't place a charge within 300 feet of any wells or springs.”

After the explosions occur, the blast holes are backfilled with gravel and then capped.

“The charges actually implode, so they're not blasting stuff all over the place,” McKay said.

“We're not going out and blowing holes all over people's properties. Other than maybe some cuttings or wires left behind, you shouldn't even know we blasted there.”

When the charges are fired they make a barely audible “pop” noise that will not harm wildlife, vegetation or buildings.

“If there is something wrong that is a direct result of what we're out there doing, yes, we're responsible for that,” McKay said.

“We can do water testing. We hire an outside company to do that, because that's not the business we're in.

“But we can test anything with a pipe for flow rate and water quality before and after the testing if you request us to do so.”

Once surveying is done, drill buggies will begin drilling the 20-foot holes.

A recording crew will then begin recording the data, which will take about three weeks.

Tom DeRosa, chairman of the township board of supervisors, said he is in constant contact with McKay and Cougar Land Services' representative Doug Garrett.

Residents with concerns can reach the companies through DeRosa.

“Using this 3D testing, EQT is targeting and narrowing down the area to try to get the most efficient wells,” DeRosa contended.

“Over the course of 20 years, these wells could bring a quarter of a billion dollars to the township.”

Cougar is offering property owners a minimum of $25 for access permits, or $5 for each acre owned.

Many in attendance expressed concerns that the permits will allow crews to come onto their property anytime they want to do anything they want.

“If you'd like us to include an expiration date on the permits, we will certainly do that,” McKay said. “As long as it is reasonable and gives us enough time to complete this project, that's something we can do.”

McKay said all parties involved have obtained necessary permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

“There's an inspector with us on site, and he keeps a close eye on everything we're doing,” McKay said.

McKay said Geokinetics and EQT are working to make everything right.

“It's very important to get this information out there to everyone we can in these types of settings,” McKay said.

“We like to do these meetings. The more that the public understands what we're doing, the better it is for us.”

James Pancake, an EQT geologist, and Nathanial Manchin, of EQT community relations, attended the meeting.

Pancake said the township will benefit from the testing.

“This gives us a great look at the fields beneath the surface,” Pancake said. “We can go to this information over and over, even if we are interested in drilling elsewhere in the area or deeper.”

DeRosa said the proposed well sites are posted on a map in the municipal building.

“We're pretty sure of where we want the wells to be,” Pancake said. “After we look at the information obtained we may shift some things.”

McKay said testing with vibrator trucks will not require road closures.

Only one source point, either charges or vibrator trucks, can be used at one time.

“It's important that as many landowners (as possible) get on board with us so that we can be sure to survey and place our buffer zones,” McKay said.

“We ask that when the surveyors come to your properties, you point out to them where your wells are or where the springs are.

“That way we can make sure all is accounted for.”

Garrett added that the permitting began in mid-February and much more needs to be done.

“If you haven't been contacted yet, you probably will,” Garrett said.

McKay said he hopes to have recording crews in the area in June.

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2667.

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