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Murrysville council OKs seismic testing on municipal property

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, 11:51 a.m.
The Murrysville Trail Alliance will host a wildflower walk this summer through Duff Park (above).
Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
The Murrysville Trail Alliance will host a wildflower walk this summer through Duff Park (above).

Murrysville council voted 6-0 recently to allow seismic testing on municipal property.

Monroeville drillers Huntley & Huntley — along with Cougar Land Services and Texas company Geokinetics — will conduct the testing, which is done to determine whether, and where, drilling and fracking for natural gas might take place.

It gathers information about rock formations by using small explosive charges and creating vibrations to send shock waves through the Earth.

Huntley & Huntley has acquired leases to the gas rights for Pleasant Valley Park, according to President Paul Burke, and was also seeking permission to drill a series of 3-inch-wide, 30-foot holes in the park where the charges will be placed and detonated.

Councilman David Perry requested a condition be added to specify that work be completed by mid-March.

“By then, we have a lot of sports and activities starting up in the parks,” Perry said.

Council also required a written agreement between Cougar Land Services and the Friends of Murrysville Parks group regarding the placement of seismic sensors in Duff Park.

“I have to approve where they're going to put the ‘geophone' sensors,” said Friends President Pia Van de Venne. “We have such a large amount of very special herbaceous plants like trillium throughout Duff Park. And if they don't know exactly where to put those sensors, they could accidentally dig them up.”

Van de Venne has met with officials from Cougar and Geokinetics three times.

“They are very cooperative,” she said.

All three companies have appeared in several Western Pennsylvania communities in the past year to talk about the testing.

Todd Folckler, a geophysicist contracted by Geokinetics, told a group of concerned Upper Burrell residents in early 2017 that the testing causes less vibration than pounding a nail into the wall of a house.

Residents in several communities have expressed concern about the practice of placing explosive charges in the ground, setting them off and monitoring those vibrations. But according to Folckler, the explosives to be used in the testing are no louder than a door being slammed in the next room. He said they will leave no lasting surface impact.

The majority of the testing will be done using what's called a “vibrosis truck.” The truck drops a metal plate onto the roadway and creates vibrations which are recorded by “geophones,” small devices placed in a grid pattern throughout the testing area.

Huntley & Huntley spokesman Dave Mashek said the company will provide the location of all geophone sites and bore holes to municipal officials, and plans to begin placing receivers in mid-January, beginning in northeast Murrysville and working toward the southwest.

“Typically, the recording equipment will be placed about 10 to 12 days prior to conducting the actual testing in a particular area,” Mashek said. “Landowners will be notified a minimum of 10 days prior to any seismic survey activity in their area with a door hanger that includes a toll-free telephone number for residents to call if they have questions.”

A representative for Geokinetics told Murrysville council members the company will shoot video before and after the testing, with a $500,000 bond in place to mitigate any potential damage.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar. Staff writer Matt Medsger contributed to this report.

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