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Companies present seismic testing plans for Dunbar Township

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Friday, May 3, 2013, 8:33 p.m.
 

Representatives of McDonald Land Services and Chevron Oil discussed seismic testing with a roomful of residents on Thursday night in Dunbar Township.

Rod White, project supervisor for McDonald Land Services, and Robert Eslick, a geophysicist for Chevron, provided information about the territory in the township where the testing would take place and what the tests would entail.

For those property owners with more than five acres who had signed a permitting letter, the companies doing the testing would check the properties for wells, underground utilities and any structures that might be damaged. They then would drill holes where blasting charges would be placed, then fill the holes with gravel as dictated by state regulations. A helicopter would then deliver geophones and receiver boxes along a set line. Once all was prepared, the charges would be set off, and the equipment would record the reflected sound waves.

In areas where the blasting charges could not be set off, “thumper” trucks would be used along township roads to provide the sound waves.

The process drew negative remarks after the representatives described what would take place with the trucks. Recording devices would be placed in yards along the roads to catch the reflected waves.

When told about the process for homeowners who were not at home, which would mean receivers would be placed in the yards, possibly without the owner's permission, and door tags would be left with information and a number to call, questions about the legality of the process were raised.

Two representatives of the Mountain Watershed Association, Melissa Troutman and Kathryn Hilton, asked how the company representatives could enter private property.

Attorney Thomas W. Shaffer of Uniontown, sitting in the audience, said the landowner would have to specifically notify the trespassers that they were not allowed on the property. He said this was called defiant trespass.

“But this is just a slap on the wrist,” Shaffer said. “It's a fine of $25.”

The company officials explained the receivers were small devices and property owners could move them as necessary.

The process has been going on in Southwestern Pennsylvania for three years,White said. Efforts were being made to inform those affected by the process of what would be involved in their specific cases, he added.

White gave business cards to those in attendance, encouraging anyone with questions to call company officials.

After the meeting Shaffer expressed his discomfort with the testing process.

“In light of the permitting letter circulated to thousands and thousands of people, certain language is unfavorable to landowners,” said Shaffer.

The language of the letter allows the company to include other parcels of land on the property not originally specified to be used without having to go to the landowner to get permission, he said.

The companies are allowed to conduct seismic testing without limitations, the attorney added. Companies must follow state and federal laws and regulations that limit the testing, he noted.

If a company damages private property, he said, the property owner must sue the testing companies and the oil company ­— something that might take a long time. And the property owners must then pay their own legal fees.

Prior to presentation on the seismic testing, Dunbar Township Supervisors Chairman John Tabaj, addressed an unsigned letter that was posted at the Leisenring Post Office.

The unsigned letter stated the township supervisors had voted to allow seismic testing without holding a public hearing. The document then listed public roads and streets in Leisenring where testing was alleged to be taking place.

“There (are) no roads in Leisenring that will be tested,” Tabaj said. “In fact, we're not even going near Leisenring.

“Now I don't know who printed this letter or what the motive was behind it,” he said. “But now we have all the people in Leisenring upset.”

Marigrace Butela asked if the supervisors had not signed a contract for the testing.

“The only thing we do is take care of the township roads,” said Tabaj. “We signed a road maintenance agreement.”

Butela said she thought the bond in the agreement was too low.

After further discussion, Tabaj called upon township solicitor Timothy Witt, who supported his statements.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kpolacek@tribweb.com or 724-626-3538.

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