North Strabane considering first Marcellus Shale well

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North Strabane officials are considering whether to allow the first Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling operation in the township on a landscaping company’s property near Route 19.


Range Resources representatives presented their plans for the drilling operation during an hourlong public hearing with township supervisors Tuesday night. It would include five horizontal wells on the 140-acre property owned by A&S Landscaping at 2150 Washington Road.


If approved at the township’s voting meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, the company plans to begin site preparations in the coming weeks and could begin drilling before the end of the year, said Debra Aker, a local government affairs liaison for Range. Aker said the company is asking the township for waivers to allow for the wellhead to be closer than 500 feet to one neighboring property line and for later hours to perform grading work during the summer.


The wellhead would not be closer than 1,000 feet to any occupied structure, although one of those buildings closest to the drilling operation would be North Strabane’s municipal complex. The township building would be 1,042 feet from the proposed wellhead, according to a map.


Five people spoke in opposition to the drilling, including three residents who live in the Chubbic Road neighborhood near the proposed site. But it was the comments from Gary Baumgardner about his experience with a drilling rig near his Union Township home that stirred the biggest reaction from township supervisors. He said his home along Cardox Road is no longer “livable” since workers from EQT Corp. began drilling about 500 feet away on the Trax Farm property in October.


“Get an expert (opinion) from someone outside of these Marcellus folks,” Baumgardner said.


He said the vibrations from the drilling operation became so “nerve-wracking” he and his family lived in a motel for more than three months. Baumgardner admitted that another company drilled the well near his house and he could not speak to Range Resources’ drilling practices.


“Our lives are upended. We have neighbors moving,” Baumgardner said. “Don’t put a value on your health or your family.”


Other residents had concerns about air and water quality, although township supervisors said the Chubbic Road neighborhood has public water.


Supervisor Brian Spicer raised questions about the noise and vibrations, although he was most concerned about the response to a major incident after Aker said the company would contact an out-of-state organization that specializes in gas well emergencies to handle such a situation.


“We have an emergency and we’re going to wait for someone from Texas while our emergency responders stand by?” Spicer said, raising his voice.


Jim Cannon, who also is a local government liaison for Range, said the specialized company would be able to arrive to the site within hours in the event of a major emergency. However, he said those events, such as the surface explosion at a well site in Greene County in February, are unlikely.


“I think what we’re referring to is something catastrophic … and not many situations, if any, will reach that,” Cannon said.


He added the local emergency responders would be on scene to secure the perimeter and evacuate nearby homes. The township’s emergency responders would have a brief orientation of the site before drilling, but it would be unlikely they could control a major fire or explosion.


If approved, the drilling operation would have to follow all North Strabane’s guidelines for gas production, unless the supervisors grant the company waivers on some conditions. The property is owned by Albert and Scott Bier, who operate A&S Landscaping.


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