Marcellus drilling OK'd in North Huntingdon

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Despite opposition from a group of residents, North Huntingdon commissioners will allow a company to drill for Marcellus shale ga s in the township's two largest parks.

The commissioners voted 5-2 on Feb. 19, to approve a pair of leases that give Huntley and Huntley Energy Exploration of Monroeville exclusive rights for the next 10 years to drill in Braddock's Trail and Oak Hollow parks. Commissioners Donald Austin and David Herold voted against the measures.

In a separate, but related vote, the board unanimously approved an application from McDonald Land Services to conduct underground seismic testing in the township, which is necessary for natural-gas companies to determine the best locations to drill.

The leases call for the township to get an upfront payment of $438,400, or $1,600 for each of the 274 acres covered by the agreement as well as 16 percent from the net sale of oil and gas that is extracted.

Commissioner Chairman Richard Gray said he supported the leases because it would bring in revenue that could be used to deal with problems that might occur when drilling inevitably occurs on private property.

“We could take the high road and say, no we don't want any parts of this because we don't want to encourage it so we're not going to sign the lease,” he said. “But what's gained by that? You're not going to stop it (drilling), because private property owners have already signed leases.

“There have been claims that there will be impacts to the community,” Gray said. “That is going to happen whether we sign these leases or not. Wouldn't you rather the township have resources to maybe mitigate some of those impacts instead of it all falling to the taxpayer?”

Gray stressed that the township cannot prevent gas drilling on private property because permits are issued by the state, which also regulates how it is done.

There currently are no Marcellus shale gas wells operating in the municipality, but township officials believe that a number of property owners have signed leases.

Marie Moore of Tener Lane, who has spoken out against the leases at several meetings, said her main opposition is that it will occur in the parks.

“We understand that drilling is going to happen and that there's probably not much we can do to stop it,” she said following the meeting. “And I don't think there would even be much opposition if the township allowed it on other property it owns. What breaks my heart is that they are allowing it in the parks, which should be off limits.”

About 30 people attended the meeting, including six who addressed the drilling plan. They spoke out in opposition to the leases .

The commissioners have repeatedly stressed that actual process of extracting the gas involves the use of horizontal boring, which means a well site will be set up outside the park boundaries.

Drilling will be taking place off site and there will be no surface damage to the park, and that's prime as far as I'm concerned,” said Commissioner Tom Krause. “The parks need to be maintained.”

Andrew Pollak, who also opposed the leases, said the manner in which drilling will occur is of little comfort.

“It doesn't matter that they won't have a well pad right inside the park,” he said following the meeting. “The fact is they will be disturbing the ground underneath. There's no guarantee that nearby (water) wells won't be contaminated. That pollution won't be emitted into the air or that there won't be an accident. And for what, money?”

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626.

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