Meeting to outline drilling under Franklin Park recreation site draws supporters, opponents
Franklin Park council is poised to consider whether to pass on allowing drilling for Marcellus Shale gas under Linbrook Park and the potential profits to fund future borough operations, or take a stance against drilling and forbid the gas from being extracted from public property.
Either way, borough officials say, drilling will occur beneath 70 private properties totaling 730 acre surrounding or near the 81-acre recreation area.
And whether council approves the lease to allow drilling under Linbrook or not, the property will not be disturbed, officials promise.
The proposed gas lease with PennEnergy Resources was outlined during a meeting on Monday at which residents had the chance to express their views on council’s upcoming decision, which is scheduled for a vote at its regular business meeting on Wednesday.
Officials will have the option of either approving the lease, rejecting it, or postponing their decision.
About 250 people attended Monday’s meeting, which was scheduled after council tabled a vote on the lease at its Dec. 19 meeting.
Opinions from the several dozen residents who spoke were mixed. A tally by the borough recorded 46 residents who were against allowing drilling and 11 residents in support.
Brendon Grzye, who said his 2016 Eagle Scout service project included cleaning up a portion of Linbrook Park, urged council to avoid placing the park “at risk.”
“You should decide to say no to this and not allow drilling,” he said. “Private land owners will both bear the responsibilities and reap the rewards for their own subsurface drilling. If there were to be an environmental catastrophe, then they bear that responsibility.”
Grzye questioned using the park for what he called a “private venture.”
“Do we really need to turn Linbrook Park, one of our most prized possessions for people of all ages, over just to make a little more money?”
Ron Walker of Bellwood Drive said Franklin Park’s image as a desirable community in which to live has “risen to an exponential level” during the 50 years he has lived in the borough.
But allowing fracking, which is the process used to extract shale gas, has the potential of tarnishing the community’s hard-earned image, he said.
“In one fell swoop, if you agree to fracking, you will end this 50 years of work and pass on a negative connotation,” he said. “If you did a survey and asked people if they knew Franklin Park was going to allow fracking would you move here, a lot of people would say no.”
Walker said while he believes “school is still out” on whether fracking is environmentally safe or not, the financial gain is not worth the risk.
He said the proposed up-front payment the borough would receive if it signs the lease would provide little benefit.
“What difference is that going to make to people living in houses that average between $400,000 and $1.5 million?” he asked. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the value of homes will go down because of the thought that this town may be fracking.”
The proposed agreement with PennEnergy calls for an upfront payment to the borough of $283,500 plus an a 18-percent royalty on the value of any gas that is extracted.
How much gas is extracted and its value will depend on market demands, according to borough Manager Rege Ebner, who said PennEnergy did not provide an estimate of how much the municipality could ultimately make from the lease.
But Dave Graff, who is leasing his property near the park for drilling, believes there is great potential for the borough to fund operations from the gas royalties it collects.
“The $285,000 is just a signing bonus,” he said. “There’s potentially millions of dollars being generated by this.”
Graff believes the concerns about the potential hazards from allowing drilling under the park are unfounded.
“There’s going to be zero surface activity in Franklin Park,” he said, adding that the negative impact on air quality, the destruction of trees and noise and pollution from vehicles is “not gonna happen” if the lease is approved.
He noted that the wells already operating in Economy Borough where the new pad will be placed have not resulted in heavy truck traffic, odors or problems in Franklin Park.
Graff said money residents will earn from gas leases will let them protect the land from what he believes is the biggest danger to the environment — development.
He said, addding that the “obliteration” of a significant portion of the borough’s farm and woodlands occurred in the past because property owners often could not afford to keep their land.
“This will allow us to keep our land and protect it forever from developers,” he said.
Graff contends that damage to air and water quality occurs “when you chop down thousands of trees and destroy habitats and creeks,” he said. “Not from a well pad in another county.”
Franklin Park officials maintain that the recreational activities and the environment at Linbrook Park will not be adversely affected by the drilling because the proposal from PennEnergy Resources calls for placing the well pad about 3/4 a mile in neighboring Economy, Beaver County.
Economy manager Randy Kunkle said one well head is already operating and another is under construction in the area where the new pad for Franklin Park would be built.
Terms of the lease between Franklin Park and PennEnergy also prohibits “surface” operations for gas extraction in the park and the area surrounding it, which means no well pads, drilling equipment, storage or personnel will be permitted.
While local municipalities can set reasonable rules for drilling such as where it takes place, they cannot ban the practice outright because it is permitted and regulated by the state.
Franklin Park’s designated area for drilling and the construction of well heads is the mostly rural and agricultural area in the northwest quadrant of the borough near the border with Marshall Township, which also contains state game lands.
To meet the prohibition against putting a well pad near Linbrook Park, the energy company plans to bore down between 5,000 and 9,000 feet and then send a lateral line out about 10,000 feet into the shale rock to release the gas for extraction.
Initial plans call for a system of 18 lateral lines to be connected to the well head in Economy to pull the gas from land in Franklin Park.
If council rejects the drilling lease, PennEnergy has informed borough officials that it has the technical ability to bypass the park land to extract gas from surrounding properties.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368 or [email protected] or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, [email protected] or via Twitter .