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Butler Township considers park drilling

| Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, 10:52 p.m.

Butler Township is considering allowing natural gas extraction from beneath the township's two large parks.

“It's an opportunity. It's could give us a revenue stream that would help us avoid raising taxes,” said Ed Kirkwood, manager of the township.

The township's council voted unanimously last week to take bids from companies that would study the feasibility of drilling underneath the parks.

Butler County got more than $500,000 by selling rights for drilling under Sunnyview nursing home and will receive royalties after drilling begins. Well pads are permitted in the county's Alameda Park, but it can market mineral rights for horizontal drilling.

Butler County officials say they expect drilling activity to increase in the area.

“I hope it does. We need to be energy independent in this country. In this area, I don't believe there is any hazard,” said Bill McCarrier, chairman of the Butler County commissioners.

There are 29 wells permitted on six well sites in Butler Township, according to MarcellusGas.org. The numbers do not indicate how many of those wells are active.

Drilling will not be allowed in either park, so energy companies would be required to drill horizontally from another well pad, Kirkwood said.

“That will be prohibited. The companies that are interested will have to drill from another source,” he said.

It may turn out that drilling in either or both of the parks may not be feasible, Kirkwood said. “Whoever gets the bid will have the right to figure out whether drilling will work there and then to drill if it does work,” he said.

The nearest drilling site to the parks is on AK Steel property and is operated by agreement with XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobile.

Mike Wallner, an AK Steel spokesman, said the company has had no discussions with the township.

If drilling underneath the two parks goes forward, the township would be paid $2,000 per acre up front. The parks have a combined 187 acres.

Once drilling starts, the township would receive 15 percent of the royalties. Leases to drill last five years.

About 700,000 acres of public land in Pennsylvania leased to energy companies for drilling. Most are in state forests.

“We think fracking is dangerous wherever it happens. In the case of parks and forests, these landscapes matter to people in Pennsylvania,” said Lina Blount, a field director for Penn Future, an environmental group that oppose fracking.

Kirkwood said only one resident has complained so far.

According to the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, there are 660,000 acres of state forest land that have been leased to drillers. There are 2.2 million acres of state forests in Pennsylvania.

In 2010, Gov. Ed Rendell issued an executive order banning further natural gas development in state forests.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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