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Elizabeth Township officials open door for drilling, seismic testing

Elizabeth Township officials took the first step this week toward considering the lease of township land for natural gas drilling and seismic testing that would be necessary to precede it.

The board of commissioners passed six ordinances on Monday that essentially opened the door for official communication and negotiations with EQT and Huntley & Huntley Inc. — the two drilling companies that already have approached the township with interest — and McDonald Land Services, the company responsible for geophysical testing.

The ordinances will revise the scope of projects funded by non-electoral debt; increase the application fee for companies to drill for oil and gas from $5,000 to $10,000; provide zoning for natural gas compressor stations; regulate any geophysical testing operations; provide for regulation of door-to-door solicitation; and extend an additional five-year period for the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act.

Commission president Gene Francesconi said all talks are in the earliest stages and stressed that no agreements would be made until the commissioners board and residents have had all of their questions answered and their concerns addressed.

“It’s no secret that the gas companies have been coming around to everybody,” he said, noting that neighboring Forward Township already has opened up to drilling. “But before we do anything, we want to do all our homework to ensure our roads aren’t damaged and our citizens are protected.”

Township engineer Brian Churilla said he and township manager Richard Janus met with representatives from McDonald last week for an overview on what the seismic testing would entail.

“As they explained to us, seismic testing is basically to X-ray the layers of the ground to look for fault lines and places the companies should or shouldn’t drill,” Churilla said. “They’d just be touching on the east side of Elizabeth Township for this portion of the seismic testing.”

Churilla said McDonald would conduct two types of tests using vibroseis trucks and detonating charges.

The “thumper trucks” use large weights attached to their undercarriages to shake the ground and record underground sound waves. Churilla said although the company would like to begin testing by the end of the month, it first must obtain overweight user permits for any township road the trucks would be using.

“Where they would be working, it seems like there may only be one township road they’d even be on,” Churilla said. “Most of the roads over there are state and county roads or they’re too small and narrow for them to be on, anyway.”

The detonating charges, which would measure the vibrations caused by small explosions underground, would be placed only on private property where the landowner has given consent.

As for the gas drilling, EQT will conduct an open house on gas wells in the municipal building from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on March 20.

Township resident Richard Fest, 31, who pleaded with the board to take its time and make informed decisions, said he likely would be among those in attendance at the open house.

“I’m not opposed to drilling at all,” he said. “But I’m concerned about the safety of our community and the safety of our schools. We can’t allow one of these companies to come in here, tear up our town and just do whatever they want.”

Francesconi promised that would not be the case.

“There are ups to this and there are downs,” he said. “What we need to do is mitigate any downs.”

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