- Grove City, Pennsylvania

July 27, 2012

SR area drill sites bring fracking closer

Shell exploring farmland; camp testing water

By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
Allied News

BUTLER COUNTY — Two oil and gas well drilling sites in the Slippery Rock area have people talking about the controversial fracking process.

Some are sharing their thoughts while others are hesitant to say much.

"Everything's going good...I haven't heard any negatives about it," said Paul Dickey, chairman of the Slippery Rock Township board of supervisors.

He was referring to a drilling site at 672 Franklin Road owned by Sylvia A. Williams, who has leased part of her 142 acres of farmland to Shell Exploration & Production Co., LP of Warrendale.

Shell is still in the exploratory phase, drilling five or six test wells to see what's there, so they haven't reached the fracking stage yet, Dickey said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process that injects chemically treated water into wells to fracture shale thousands of feet underground and release trapped gas or oil.

The Marcellus Shale lies a mile or more down in parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. Health and environmental groups claim fracking can contaminate drinking water; gas companies say it's safe if done properly.

"Fracking is just an evil word to some people," Dickey said.

Recent federal and state laws have taken away most of local officials' control of well monitoring, but activity at the Franklin Road site appears to be going well, he said, adding the township hasn't had any complaints from residents.

Dickey is manager of the Slippery Rock Municipal Authority, so he had some concerns about how drilling could affect the local water supply.

"There's very little control we have left," he said of drilling.

He spoke with a geologist, engineer and state municipal authority and rural water associations, who all told him they didn't foresee any problems.

And Shell tested the municipal authority's wells to have baseline data for comparison to future samples to see if the drilling has any effect on the water, Dickey said.

Now township officials are working on revising an ordinance that deals with well drilling. It's an ongoing discussion that could come up at any meeting, he said.

Williams didn't want to comment on the drilling on her property except to say she didn't have any complaints. Her children said the rig had been erected at the site but was taken down recently and they don't know why.

The entrance to the site is on Harmony Road but laborers there with Xcorts, a division of ECM, told Allied News photographs were prohibited.

According to the ECM website, Xcorts is a pilot car service dedicated to the oil and gas industry. A sign at Harmony and Franklin roads read "Nabors Drilling USA, LP, Rig 712."

There is a rig set up at the second drilling site in Worth Township, and it's easily visible from Interstate 79.

The farmland where it sits is on West Liberty Road and is owned by William and Dee Dee Drake, said Claire Martin, the township's secretary and treasurer, who also said the township hasn't had any complaints about the drilling, a Shell project in the testing phase.

About three miles from the drilling site is Slippery Rock Campground, which is keeping a close eye on things.

"This is all new to us," said Diane Falvo, campground manager.

She and her staff haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary but they're still learning about the drilling process. Falvo got advice from the state Department of Environmental Protection about testing the campground's well water because she hasn't been able to get in touch with someone from Shell.

"We don't really know what to expect," she said.

The campground already tests its well water several times a year, but they recently started more extensive testing to look for contaminants like methane and benzyne.

But the campers don't need to worry because everything has checked out OK so far, Falvo said. The campground itself has a lease agreement with Shell for drilling, a deal made six or seven years ago; there has been no drilling or testing, Falvo said, declining to further discuss the deal.

Shell and the Drakes didn't return messages.

Slippery Rock Township supervisors meet at 8 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of the month.

Published July 18, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.