MDS reapplies for well-drilling permit near Yellow Creek

MDS reapplies for well-drilling permit near Yellow Creek

By SAM KUSIC | Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 9:00 am

A natural gas producer is again asking for Indiana County’s permission to drill a Marcellus shale well near Yellow Creek State Park.

On Tuesday, Kittanning-based MDS Energy filed a revised special-permit application for the well with the Indiana County Zoning Hearing Board.

In turn, the board scheduled a July 26 hearing to take testimony on the application, which may be reviewed at the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development.

It’s the company’s second go-around with the board, which rejected the application in May on grounds that MDS had failed to adequately show how it would protect the public’s health and safety.

MDS is planning to drill the vertical well on a piece of privately owned property along Ray Road in Cherryhill Township, about 1,500 feet from the park’s property line and about 2,400 feet from the northern shore of Yellow Creek Lake. The lake and its streams are the sole source of fresh water for the Central Indiana County Water Authority.

However, in rejecting the permit application, the board said it would be glad to review a revised application, if the company met seven conditions.

Among the conditions: that MDS specifically state from where it intends to pull the water needed to hydraulically fracture the well; that it state where and how it will dispose of solid wastes and wastewater; that it outlines methods it will employ to prevent an accidental discharge into the lake; and that it detail the procedures it will follow in the event of an emergency.

In the revised application, the company states that it will be trucking in Allegheny River water from Kittanning and “possibly a closer source,” if it can win approval from the state.

“In no circumstance will we be drawing water from Yellow Creek or Yellow Creek Lake,” it said.

Solid wastes and wastewater, it said, will be taken to federally overseen injection disposal wells in Ohio and a Waste Management Inc. facility permitted to accept the type of solid wastes generated by the well.

As for emergencies, Cherryhill Township firefighters, Indiana Regional Medical Center and others have been apprised of the company’s operations. Also, MDS said, it has been in touch with Boots and Coots, one of the top providers of well site emergency services. MDS said Boots and Coots has developed a relationship with Halliburton and has someone stationed in Homer City. It also has a full outfit in West Virginia, the company said.

“They have been provided with the pertinent information about our drilling plans/location, and will be notified before we start any drilling operations again. They have a full well-control infrastructure setup located in West Virginia and could be on site much faster than most other well control companies, who respond out of Houston,” the company said.

And as for preventing a spill into the lake, MDS said it has redesigned its well site so that it complies voluntarily with a more stringent set of rules governing drilling in high-quality watersheds. Yellow Creek is not a high-quality watershed, but it will act as if it were, the company said.

In accordance with those rules, the company said it will grade its well pad so that it slopes away from the lake and toward a diversion ditch leading to two catch basins, each rigged with a water pump. The company also will ring the well pad with a 2-foot-tall earthen berm. It also will have a vacuum truck parked on site, ready to go in the event of a significant spill.

MDS is one of two companies working through the permitting process for Marcellus shale wells near Yellow Creek State Park. The other is Pittsburgh-based EQT Production, which is planning a well off Stewart Run Road in Brush Valley Township.

MDS needs to win county approval for the well — as eventually will EQT — because it is drilling in a conservation zone set up through the county’s Special Recreation and Conservation Zoning Ordinance. Adopted in the 1970s, the ordinance is designed to protect areas around the county parks from detrimental land uses and industrial development.

In a related matter, the Indiana County Planning Commission is expected to take up a discussion regarding the ordinance this evening. That meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the courthouse annex.

A group called the Coalition for a Healthy County has been pushing commissioners to revise the ordinance so that it prohibits hydraulic fracturing within the zone. They argue that allowing further drilling in the conservation zone will compromise the intent of the zone, which is to protect the areas around the parks.

The group, in fact, said it plans to propose an amendment to the ordinance that prohibits the drilling of oil and natural gas wells.

Gerald Smith, a coordinator for the coalition, said that PennFuture, a nonprofit, environmental advocacy group in Harrisburg, has been helping the coalition write the amendment.

“PennFuture, founded by former DEP head John Hangar, has a history of fact-based policy solutions which find the right balance between environmental and health protections and economic development,” Smith said.


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