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Hempfield seismic testing hearing set

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A federal judge will hold a hearing on Wednesday on whether to issue an injunction against Hempfield for refusing to allow a Texas company from conducting seismic testings on township roads and rights of way in a search for natural gas deposits.

Township attorney Les Mlakar said the hearing will be at 2:30 p.m. in the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh.

Ion Geophysical Corp. of Houston is suing the township over its refusal to allow the firm to conduct underground tests for potential natural gas wells in certain areas. Hempfield officials say they have no objection to Ion conducting tests on private property as long as it doesn't involve township roads or public rights of way.

Ion argues that Hempfield doesn't have an ordinance regulating testing, so it has no legal authority to stop the company.

Company officials said they have contracts with private property owners to begin testing on April 20. They want a federal judge to allow the company to conduct the tests and bar the township from interfering.

Mlakar declined comment on the lawsuit.

Doug Weimer, chairman of the township board of supervisors, said in doing seismic testing, “thumper trucks” use low-frequency sound waves to make small earthquakes that could jolt storm sewers, utility, water and sewer lines the township shares with the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County and the Hempfield Township Municipal Authority.

“We're not agreeing to allow them to test on public rights of way and public infrastructure because we don't see any public benefit,” he said.

Attorney Scott Avolio, who represents the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, said the authority fears damage to the county water system in Hempfield.

“This is one of the areas that has not been properly addressed by seismic testing,” he said.

In a similar case, Commonwealth Court in January issued an injunction against officials in four Beaver County communities prohibiting them from interfering with seismic testing. The municipalities tried to prevent Seidel Data Ltd. of Texas from conducting tests for natural gas deposits.

The state has issued 14 drilling permits for 13 sites in Hempfield but only seven wells are under development, according to the state.

The amount of seismic testing done in Southwestern Pennsylvania is increasing, according to natural gas companies.

Ion is conducting tests in Murrysville. Consol Energy, Range Resources and EQT are among other energy companies conducting tests in the region. Consol conducted testing near the Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay, North Fayette and Moon townships and Independence Township in Beaver County as part of a plan to drill 47 gas wells in July.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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