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Ford City meeting short on answers about gas drilling

| Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011

Several residents came to a special borough council meeting Tuesday expecting to hear from gas drilling company officials.

But they had to ask their questions of council instead.

More than a dozen people attended the meeting, drawn there to ask questions about the effects Marcellus shale gas drilling could have on the local environment and residents' health. The meeting was advertised as a discussion of Marcellus shale gas-well drilling.

EXCO Resources has applied to the borough for leasing rights to drill into the Marcellus shale formation. Council is considering, but has not yet entered into a lease agreement. Council said it did not ask anyone from the company to attend the meeting.

"I'm appalled that nobody is here from the company," said Delores Shaeffer. "A engineer from the company to tell us exactly what they are going to do. To explain it. Will there be another public hearing with a company official?"

Council held one meeting with an EXCO official in attendance a few months ago. Few residents were at that meeting.

"We do need to have answers," said Councilman Ron Dillard, agreeing with Shaeffer. "They should step up."

Councilman Paul Harmon said he will get an EXCO representative to an upcoming public meeting.

Shaeffer asked if council has signed a lease.

"We're close to it, but there are still questions posed to us that we still have to address," said Dillard. "We're not totally there yet."

EXCO has proposed a lease for the borough to receive nearly $1 million up front for the drilling rights to three borough-owned parcels and in addition, a share of 18 percent royalties generated per a 640-acre unit if and when wells begin production. In the borough's case, that would amount to about 9 percent (300 acres of the 640 acre unit).

The lease would pay $127,775 for the 40-acre brownfield parcel near the Ford City Bridge; $543,171 for the 180-acre Ford City-owned ballfield property within North Buffalo and $189,783 for the 65-acre landfill site.

The lease is for five years and would expire at the end of that time.

Another resident, Beth Bowser, provided council with some resources that she said could help council with its decision.

It included a list of websites, DEP reports and a series of articles in a newspaper in another part of the region on the subject.

Bowser referenced Cecil Township in addition, which she said has been involved in gas drilling.

"They will be able to tell you first hand," she said, "Contact them."

Council was asked by another resident about drilling within the borough.

"We told EXCO we have ordinances in place," said Council President John Lux. "There will be no drilling in the borough."

Harmon added that any drilling is only horizontal and thousands of feet below the surface, in regard to borough land.

In other borough business, council:

-- Approved hiring Emil R. "Larry" Coffey Jr., of Kittanning, to the newly created position of borough superintendent to oversee and direct borough departments, operations and projects, pending a background check, physical and drug test. The job will pay an annual salary of $45,000.

Council said Coffey was chosen from a number of candidates based on his expertise in construction and that he was a former crew leader, ran heavy equipment and has worked with both union and non-union workers.

-- Approved notifying Peoples Natural Gas asking them to inform the borough of any scheduled repair projects to be done in Ford City in 2011 and 2012. Council said it wants to coordinate with borough street-paving projects.

-- Announced that the next several public meetings regularly scheduled for at the Ford City Public Library will be moved to the borough building due to the street conditions for a sewer line project.

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