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North Huntingdon residents sound off on drilling proposal

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By Amanda Dolasinski
Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Residents fearful that drilling would destroy Braddock's Trail Park in North Huntingdon urged commissioners to forbid a land survey company to have the exclusive mineral rights on the public property.

“We received a proposal from Huntley and Huntley, which we felt should be presented to the board for discussion and consideration,” Mike Turley, assistant township manager, said at last week's commissioners' meeting.

The potential lease on Braddock's Trail and Oak Hollow parks could generate more than $411,000 for the township.

Township officials have been in deliberations with the company throughout the year, Turley said. Huntley and Huntley officials are interested in a nonsurface lease, he said.

As part of that type of lease, there would be no facilities on township property, he said. Essentially, a drill site would be placed on another parcel, and horizontal drilling below the surface would occur to extract the gas.

“This met one of our concerns that we minimize or eliminate any impact to the surface of park properties,” Turley said.

The potential lease, which could be for 10 years, would include an upfront payment of $1,500 per acre or about $411,000 for 274 acres. It also would include a 16-percent royalty rate if drilling would occur.

Turley said there aren't any Marcellus wells drilled in the township, although drilling is happening nearby, he said.

He also said proposed seismic testing activity could occur in the township sometime next year. Seismic testing is necessary for natural-gas companies to determine the best locations to drill.

“The result is that we've expected for some time that there will be wells drilled in the township and, in particular, these two areas that we're talking about,” Turley said. “This is to occur regardless of whether we participate or not. We just happen to own two large parcels in the area of interest.”

Although commissioners have the authority to forbid drilling in public parks, residents in the township can approve private contracts with Huntley and Huntley on their properties.

Commissioner Richard Gray said he worries a lease would not directly benefit residents.

“What I've seen … it never seems to benefit the residents,” he said. “If the township can make money from this, it should be directly tied to a tax decrease rather than just be sitting in the bank.”

Luke Bungard, senior landman with Huntley and Huntley, said he attended to the meeting to hear residents' worries. He offered to provide specialists from the state Department of Environmental Protection to attend future meetings.

Numerous residents protested the potential lease on park property.

“I am appalled that fracking is even being considered as a possibility at this park or Oak Hollow,” said Marie Moore, who said she lives on property adjacent to Braddock's Trail Park.

“Residents rely on parks for a quiet, safe place to enjoy nature,” she said. “Residents look to you, as commissioners, to improve the community. Yes, that includes bringing in new business and creating jobs, but it also includes protecting the parks that we have and the health of your residents.”

Don Miller, of Sycamore Drive near the park, said he is worried future drilling could contaminate well water that he and his wife still use. “I'm concerned you're going to ruin the park; you're going to ruin the well,” he said.

North Huntingdon commissioners could continue discussions on the potential lease before the end of the year.

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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