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Valley News Dispatch

Seismic testing request rattles nerves of Upper Burrell residents

| Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, 12:01 a.m.

Officials from companies that want to conduct seismic testing in anticipation of drilling natural gas wells in the Alle-Kiski Valley had a tough time Wednesday night convincing Upper Burrell residents that their methods are safe.

A standing-room-only crowd of at least 40 people questioned those company officials following the Upper Burrell supervisors meeting Wednesday night.

Company officials didn't detail which other communities they intend to test in, but mentioned neighboring Allegheny Township and Plum.

Seismic testing 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 to send shock waves through the Earth. It works in much the same way that an ultrasound machine looks through a human body, company officials said.

Company officials said that no heavy trucks would be used on low-weight roads without the township's permission, and that a resident would have the right to deny access to surveyors and technicians involved in testing.

The testing in Upper Burrell could take place after the companies get permits from the township engineer.

Representatives from Huntley and Huntley, a Monroeville-based oil and gas company, and two companies they have contracted with to perform seismic testing in Upper Burrell and surrounding municipalities, spent more than an hour attempting to allay the fears of residents concerned about the procedure.

Residents not happy

Todd Folckler, a geophysicist contracted by Geokinetics, told the crowd that the procedures his company would perform are perfectly safe.

Folckler cited a study on the process and the equipment used that showed a home experiences more disturbances during normal day-to-day temperature-based contraction and expansion than is caused by the vibrations used in seismic testing.

Residents were not convinced.

Supervisors Chairman Ross Walker had to gavel the room to order several times, as residents' distrust of seismic testing became apparent.

“There are a lot reports of damage done through seismic testing to homes,” said Ron Slabe, 69. “Anybody can Google it and find out.”

Folckler responded that pounding a nail into the wall of a home would cause more vibration than the proposed seismic testing would.

Another resident, Brian Novak, 43, said his concern was not for his home but for his water source. Novak, like many Pennsylvanians in rural areas, gets his water from a well. He questioned what remedy he would seek if his well was damaged by seismic testing.

“I can't take on a gas company,” he said. “What recourse would we have if something happened?”

“There is absolutely no way we can have an impact on your well,” Folckler responded.

Some opponents have complained about noise when companies use underground explosives.

But according to Folckler, the explosives to be used in the testing proposed for Upper Burrell are no louder than a door being slammed in the next room. He said they will leave no lasting surface impact.

Township Solicitor Stephen Yakopec suggested residents who are concerned about the testing should research potential points of negotiation before agreeing to any procedures on their property.

Start date unclear

No official start date has been identified for the seismic testing, and no permits have been issued by the township.

Jennifer Hoffman, a vice president with Huntley and Huntley, said township supervisors would be notified well before testing began so the information could be passed to residents.

Doug Garret of Cougar Land Services said about 40 or 50 employees would be working in Upper Burrell and surrounding towns during the course of the testing.

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675 or mmedsger@tribweb.com.

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