Water Treatment $$$


There is no drilling for Marcellus shale planned in Plum – at the present time.

But Plum officials aren't waiting for an application to come to the borough's planning department.

Greg Bachy, planning director, is working on amendments to the borough's unified development ordinance that would include requirements for Marcellus shale drilling.

Bachy said applicants would be required to seek site plan and conditional use approvals for proposals. The plans will be reviewed by both the borough planning commission and council.

"This is bigger than any drilling (we have) in Plum," Bachy said. "It's a much more labor intensive process. When they drill a pad, it could be there for a year. And multiple wells are drilled on one pad in all directions."

Marcellus shale lies under about two-thirds of Pennsylvania and is about 6,000 to 8,000 feet below the surface. Other natural gases lie about 1,000 feet under the surface, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. 

As with other natural gas, landowners and drilling companies negotiate a contract to sell rights to minerals below the surface of their property. The state DEP handles all drilling permits. 

Bachy said one of the amendments will be the location suggested for Marcellus shale drilling.

Bachy said the rural residential zoning district in the northern section of the borough will be proposed. The area is north of Sardis Road.

"(Drilling) in the (northern) area will have the least impact," Bachy said. "There are fewer homes. It's not as developed."

Bachy said the borough is within its right to designate an area for Marcellus shale drilling.

Bachy pointed to a state Supreme Court ruling in favor of Oakmont Borough that had rejected a request by Huntley & Huntley Inc. of Monroeville for a conditional use permit to drill a gas well in a residential subdivision.

"Municipalities can prescribe by zoning district where gas companies can do wells," Bachy said.

Drilling companies also will be required to comply with Plum's regulations regarding grading permits, road closures and noise. Additionally, the companies will be required to conduct traffic studies, develop plans for erosion and sedimentation control and address parking, landscaping and lighting requirement at drilling sites. 

The borough also can regulate other issues including time of operation, setbacks, bonding for local roads, hazardous waste disposal.

The companies also must comply with DEP regulations and obtain permits from the regulatory agency.

Plum Mayor Richard Hrivnak wants the borough to cover all the bases regarding regulations.

"I want us to put together stringent regulations," Hrivnak said. "I would like Plum to be known as one of the most stringent with regulations. Anything we can avail ourselves to regulate, we should."  

Bachy said the borough's regulations need to be "reasonable."

"Land-use regulations we can regulate," Bachy said. "We don't deal with the extraction of gas. And we have no control of the (drilling) impact on the watershed."

Bachy said Plum plans to be fair with its ordinance.

"We're not going to be overly harsh on them," Bachy said. "We understand the oil and gas act limits our ability to regulate them to a great extent."

"We want to come out of the box with an ordinance that is solid and will stand up in court. We don't want a test case in court." 

Council President Mike Doyle sees the potential of Marcellus shale drilling in the state.

"It could be as big for Pennsylvania as oil for Saudi Arabia," Doyle said. "It should be nurtured and done the right way."

Bachy said the proposed ordinance should be ready for the planning commission's review in December followed by council review and a public hearing in January. He expects a council vote in February.

Officials look into profiting from water treatment after drilling

Officials at a sewage authority are conducting a study to see if and how it can deal with water blown back during Marcellus shale drilling – and if they can get a cut of the profits.

Jim Brucker, manager of the Franklin Township Municipal Sewage Authority manager Jim Brucker said the authority is exploring the idea of treating the water or selling it back to the oil and gas drillers. The study is expected to be completed next month.

"We need to see what we have the capacity to do," Brucker said.

During the extraction of natural gas from Marcellus shale rock, a drilling company uses a large amount of water mixed with sand and chemicals to fracture the rock in a process called fracking. Between 1 million and 5 million gallons of water are used during the fracking process.

Once the process is completed, the water must either be reused in another well or sent to an approved treatment facility. The authority, based in Murrysville, is allowed to process 4.9 million gallons of sewage and waste water each day. On a typical day, the plant processes and clarifies 3.334 million gallons.

The authority stands to gain money from Marcellus shale drilling if the companies are interested in purchasing its water, Brucker said.

The study is also looking to see if there is a way to use land the authority owns near the turnpike to bring in fracking water and septage waste.

"It's sort of a pet project of our board's," Brucker said. "It would make it easy for truckers and keep them off of local roads. But it would take a lot to get approval from the Turnpike Commission."

If the authority is able to work with drilling companies, it would not limit its services to the seven municipalities it serves, Brucker said. It would reach out to communities in the counties surrounding Westmoreland. The authority provides sewage treatment to Murrysville, Export, Delmont and part of Monroeville, Penn Township, Plum and Salem.

Murrysville, and dozens of other communities, is finalizing an oil and gas drilling ordinance that would regulate where and how drilling companies can tap into Marcellus shale.

By Daveen Rae Kurutz

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