The ongoing debate over Marcellus shale natural gas well restrictions continued Tuesday in Upper Burrell.
A standing room only crowd of residents, gas industry professionals and local environmental activists weighed in as township supervisors considered whether to increase the distance required between homes and wells.
Turkey Ridge Road residents David Jordan, Dan Myers and Diana Kadunce spoke of concerns about the potential placement of a gas well on a neighboring farm.
Myers and Jordan, in particular, have been asking supervisors to tweak the township ordinance that permits wells to be drilled within 500 feet of homes. They’d like the distance to be expanded and to be effective from the property line.
Township Solicitor Steve Yakopec said he reviewed a handful of other municipalities’ ordinances and environmental studies that recommended setbacks ranging from 625 feet to 2,500 feet.
“It is my legal opinion that any setback from 500 feet to 1,000 feet would be defensible,” Yakopec said, indicating the township would have a good case if the distance was challenged in court.
No action was taken Tuesday by Supervisors Ross Walker III and Allen Uhler; Supervisor Pete Dombroski was absent.
Yakopec suggested a next step could be reviewing a township map, locating all homes and highlighting the potential setback areas to determine how much of the township then would be off limits to drilling.
Vince Tresco, whose family owns the Turkey Ridge Road property targeted for a gas well, said he was concerned forcing well pads to a more central location on an owner’s land could limit future ability to farm or subdivide the land.
At the same time, when questioned whether he’d be willing to move the well pad, he said, “Absolutely. Put it right next to my home.”
Walker questioned whether Monroeville-based energy company Huntley & Huntley would be willing to meet with the Turkey Ridge Road residents and residents surrounding three other potential well locations in Upper Burrell to work out placements that would be amenable to all.
No representatives from Huntley & Huntley and associated companies were willing to comment during the meeting, but Ed Valentas, a land manager for Huntley & Huntley, said after the meeting that his company met with residents and would be willing to continue doing so.
“We’re working with the township — all townships — on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
“We care,” Valentas added. “We want to be as fair as we can for everybody.”
Jordan indicated he’d be less concerned about changing the ordinance if the neighbors and Huntley & Huntley are willing to work out a compromise.
But Angelcrest Drive resident Ron Slabe, a frequent voice for more drilling protections, urged officials to change the ordinance: “We must have something concrete in an ordinance.”
George Banyas of Hunter Hill Road, who said he signed a gas lease with Huntley & Huntley about eight years ago, also cautioned residents about trusting drillers: “All these promises — they don’t have to keep them.”
But three Schafer Drive residents spoke in favor of welcoming gas drilling.
Allan Beattie chalked up the environmental concerns to foreign oil exporters meddling to drive down the price of natural gas. Beattie said the gas industry benefits Upper Burrell residents from its low prices, impact fees and leases.
Jim Minford said gas wells are a boon to farmers who struggle to continue their way of life.
And Ken Slahtovsky said the 500-foot setback should be sufficient since it was established for all zones, including residential neighborhoods, under the partially repealed state Act 13.
“We need every well we can get,” he said.
Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was written by Liz Hayes from The Valley News-Dispatch, Tarentum, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.