Concern raised over gas well pad

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A North Strabane Township public hearing Tuesday regarding what would be the first natural gas well pad in the township was proceeding amicably until the drilling company’s legal representation asked the board of supervisors to vote.


The municipal hall was nearly packed with residents who came to learn more about Range Resource’s proposed vertical well pad on property owned by Christy Gas Co. on Christy Road. The township planning commission has not made its recommendation on the item. Kenneth Komoroski, representing Range Resources, said at the end of the hearing he was under the impression the board would be voting on the conditional use application of the well pad Tuesday. He said there would be “severe financial consequences” for Range if that decision were delayed.


Komoroski said even if a vote did not take place Tuesday, Range could still proceed with the construction of the well pad. He said Range has received deemed approval for the well pad because the township waited until the last possible day to hold a public hearing.


“I want to make it crystal clear, it is our legal position that we have the necessary governmental approvals to proceed at this point in time,” Komoroski said, “and any action by this township to prevent Range from proceeding does inflict at least a force majeure condition on us … and causes extreme financial adverse conditions for the company.”


Township Solicitor James Jeffries said Komoroski’s stance was “totally wrong” and he believes Komoroski miscalculated the time frame for deemed approval, which he said is 60 days after a public hearing is held.


“The township will take all necessary steps to maintain public safety if they proceed tomorrow,” Jeffries said.


Jeffries said the board could legally vote at the conclusion of the public hearing, but the supervisors could not be expected to alter their standard procedure.


“In my 14 years as a supervisor sitting in this chair, we have never, ever voted to approve anything at a public hearing,” said township president Steve Motzer. “We take facts. We have a chance to digest them. This is a nonlegislative meeting.”


Motzer said that the earliest a vote could be taken would be during a legislative meeting Sept. 24.


Earlier in the public hearing, Jim Cannon, manager of local government relations for Range Resources, discussed Range’s plans for the well pad and addressed residents’ concerns.


Cannon described the plan for the proposed well site as short-term, exploratory and noninvasive. He said vertical drilling of the shallow well would determine whether or not there is dry gas (primarily pure methane) or wet gas (a number of liquid constituents) in that area.


Cannon said drilling would only enter a sandstone formation that is about 3,000 feet deep and would not hit the deeper Marcellus formation, which makes the process faster and less extensive.


“This is going to be a very brief operation, a matter of a month or less from start to finish,” Cannon said.


Cannon also addressed concerns regarding noise level, which according to township ordinance is not to exceed 60 decibels, and hours of operation, which will be contained to daylight hours. He said Range conducts sound assessment tests to ensure that residents are not disturbed.


Cannon said many residents in the past have raised concerns about truck traffic, and that in comparison with a horizontal well, a vertical well would reduce truck traffic by at least a third.


Bill Black, who lives across from the proposed well site on Christy Road, said he is concerned about heavy trucks traveling on the narrow road, which he believes “was never designed for even the traffic we have now.”


Cannon said Range would provide flaggers and escort vehicles during the well’s operation to ensure safety along the road.


Another resident questioned whether Range would continue to explore the region for possible well sites if they were successful.


“We’re not doing this for a science project,” said Barry Osborne, vice president of land. “We anticipate that we’re going to be successful, and if we are, there will be further development.”


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