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June 12, 2014

Mahoning approves wells, compressor station

NEW CASTLE — Mahoning Township approved 11 Hilcorp Energy Co. gas and oil drilling wellpads and a compressor station.

The unanimous approvals — by Supervisors Vito Yeropoli, Mark Sackin and Gary Pezzuolo — followed a four-and-a-half-hour session Tuesday attended by about 100 people.

Lou Perrotta, Mahoning Township’s solicitor, conducted the conditional use hearing and warned those attending that no audiotaping or videotaping was allowed, threatening to prosecute them if they did not comply. Twice, he ordered people to stop recording with electronic devices.

Initially, Perrotta told several who wanted to speak that according to the zoning ordinance, they had no official standing in the hearing because they were not Mahoning Township residents.

But they were allowed to comment after several pointed out they have children in the Mohawk school district who could be affected by traffic, pollution and safety concerns from the Leeper wellpad, which is about a mile from the school complex.

Chris Miller of Hillsville Road said she fears for her three children’s health “10 years down the road” from the wells. Margaret Henry of Columbiana Road said, “We have no right to expose those children to 12 years of crap that is coming out of that well.” She added the proposed Gebhardt wellpad “is even closer to the Mohawk school district.”

Stephanie Carter said that while she is not a Mahoning Township resident, she also lives in the Mohawk school district and is concerned about the proximity of the well to the facility. “At least put conditions restricting the flaring or drilling while children are at recess or on the bus,” she said.

Lisa DeSantis of Pennsylvania Avenue, New Castle, asked whether anyone has addressed methane migration from old abandoned wells in the school area.

“Those comments are taken to heart by Hillcorp and me,” replied attorney Michael K. Vennum, of Burleson in Canonsburg, who represented Hilcorp. He commented that setbacks and the well’s distance from the school meet state standards. He said residents with concerns can pursue a grievance process by contacting the DEP’s Meadville office.

Resident Mike Angelo of Hillsville Road objected to the Siegel wellpad and compressor station being built in a rural area near his home.

“I enticed my daughter to move there and now she is stuck,” he said, adding “Who’s going to want to buy a home by a well or a compressor station?” If he had known the wellpad and compressor station were coming, “I’d have moved out of the area ... ” he said, adding “I never thought our supervisors would have morally let this happen.”

He added the DEP’s own figures state that seven percent of all new wells leak “from day one.” He said that some of the chemicals from the wells can cause cancer and other illnesses and include benzene, toulene, xylene and ethylbenzene.

Angelo’s lawyer, Michael Oliverio of Lynch Weis in Cranberry Township, called John Trant Jr., a certified community planner, to testify. Trant said the conservation districts where the wellpads will be located are not compatible with heavy industrial use and there will be visual, noise and traffic impacts on nearby residential property.

Oliverio also argued that deep well drilling is not specifically permitted in the zoning ordinance and that the township zoning hearing board, not the supervisors, should have jurisdiction over their zoning request. Oliverio also questioned the legality of reduced setback waivers on two of the wellpad requests.

Perrotta stated at one point that the conditional use hearing is similar to a court hearing and “we’re not here for questions and answers.” However many residents with questions were eventually allowed to ask them.

Vennum repeatedly stated that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has given the DEP, not supervisors, authority over oil and gas development and related questions of water testing, pollution and air quality. He said supervisors only have authority over a few zoning issues, such as wall heights.

Ryan Godwin, operations engineer, said that compression stations are necessary for gas production. He said Hilcorp already has a compression station in Pulaski Township and in Poland Township, Ohio. He said the proposed Siegel compressor station has deliberately been located in a secluded area with numerous trees that will help “mitigate” noise.

He would not answer Oliverio’s question about what chemicals will be released into the air as a result of operations and Vennum objected that this is a Pennsylvania DEP-regulated matter and if there is an issue with the permit, anyone can contact the DEP and request a hearing.

Godwin would only say, “All our fuel is natural gas, clean burning fuel.”

Jerry Blackmon of Elite Compression Services, stated mufflers can be put on compressor engines if noise is a problem.

The conditional uses were approved for wellpads at the following locations: Ambrosia Coal and Construction Co., West Main Street, Hillsville; Carmen Shick, Kendra Shick-Tabak, Kenneth Shick and Rosie Bartholomew, 206 Baird Road, Edinburg; Scott H. Buckner, 1082 Skyhill Road, Edinburg; Richard A. and Cyndee D. Patton, Matthews Road, Edinburg; Walter H. Burkhardt, Jacobsen Road, Edinburg; Edwin H. and Gretchen Yeo III, McBride Road, Edinburg; W. John Gebhardt, State Route 224, Edinburg; Donald L. and Christopher J. Leeper, 1701 Mohawk School Road, Edinburg; David Gennaro, Carbon Micco Road, Edinburg; Paul Siegel, Baird Road, Edinburg; and David Gennaro, Carbon Micco Road, Edinburg.

A compressor station also will be located at the Siegel wellpad.

(Email: grzebieniak@ncnewsonline.com)

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