CHC opposes new Yellow Creek Drill Site

Second company proposes drilling gas well near Yellow Creek

By SAM KUSIC | Posted: Thursday, July 7, 2011 3:00 am

BRUSH VALLEY — Brush Valley Township supervisors have been given notice that a natural gas producer intends to sink a Marcellus shale well near Yellow Creek State Park.

In a letter dated June 28, the engineering firm UniversalPegasus International stated that it will be applying for a DEP permit for site work related to the well on behalf of Pittsburgh-based EQT Production.

According to the letter, the well is to sit on 60 acres off Stewart Run Road, which is to the west of Yellow Creek Lake. About 40 acres of the site will be disturbed during well construction, the letter said.

Representatives from EQT and UniversalPegasus did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Township officials, however, said the well is a Marcellus shale well and would sit within a conservation zone around the park. The zone, laid out under Indiana County’s Special Recreation and Conservation Zoning Ordinance, is designed to protect areas around county parks from industrial encroachment and other detrimental land uses.

While natural gas wells are permitted within the conservation zone, well owners first must obtain a special use permit from the Indiana County Zoning Hearing Board.

It wasn’t clear this morning whether EQT has applied for the special use permit. A board official couldn’t be reached for comment.

EQT appears to be the second company moving forward with plans to drill a Marcellus well in the conservation zone. The first was Kittanning-based MDS Energy, which had applied for a special use permit earlier this year.

MDS is — and EQT will be — contending with opposition from the Coalition for a Healthy County, a group of environmentally minded residents that has formed to fight shale-gas drilling in the conservation zones.

Coalition members have said that while they don’t oppose shale-gas wells entirely, they believe the wells have no place in the conservation zones. They are pushing for the Indiana County commissioners to adopt a revised version of the ordinance that bans hydraulic fracturing — an important process in drilling a shale-gas well — within the conservation zones.

County Commissioner Rod Ruddock has said the county needs to review the ordinance, which was adopted in the 1970s, well before shale-gas wells were on the horizon. Though the county is taking steps toward that end, it has yet to put anything specific on the table.

And absent an updated ordinance, the zoning board had to rely on the law as is when it reviewed the MDS application in March and April. It ultimately rejected the company’s permit, saying that the application lacked sufficient detail and needed to provide for additional measures to protect public health and safety.

The board didn’t close the door entirely on MDS, though, saying that it would welcome a revised application. To date, MDS has yet to submit one.

And to add another layer to the debate, the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania chapter sent a letter to the National Park Service and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on Wednesday, stating that Pennsylvania may be violating a federal environmental law in allowing shale-gas drilling in state parks.

According to the letter, state parks, including Yellow Creek, have received millions through the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act. Parks receiving money through the fund are supposed to be protected in perpetuity. And while pieces of them can be “converted” for uses other than outdoor recreation, the National Park Service is supposed to review and approve such uses.

But according to the Sierra Club, Pennsylvania has not sought permission from, or at least the opinion of, the National Park Service.

“As a result, drilling is moving forward across the state without any comprehensive analysis of how this drilling will impact decades of investment in public lands, or how to mitigate those impacts,” the organization stated in the letter.

To be sure, the EQT and MDS wells are not located within Yellow Creek State Park, but on private property adjacent to the park.

Still, according to Sierra Club, the state and the National Park Service need to review whether permitting wells being sunk near a state park constitutes a “conversion” under the federal conservation act.

“Until these compliance issues have been fully resolved, DEP and DCNR should avoid creating further complications and temporarily halt leasing and drilling permitting on state park and state forest lands,” the organization wrote.


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