PDA’s Schmetzer Stands Up to Natural Gas Bulldozer

Gas Drilling Creates Cresswell Heights Concerns

By Bill Utterback
Beaver County Times

SOUTH HEIGHTS, Feb 25 2012 — The potential for Marcellus shale natural gas drilling in the vicinity of three wells that provide public water is creating concern in South Heights and neighboring communities.

The wells, located in South Heights, feed the Creswell Heights Joint Authority, water provider for more than 15,000 customers in Crescent Township, Hopewell Township, South Heights and a small portion of Moon Township.

“Before the train starts rolling is the time to get it stopped,” said Robert Schmetzer, president of South Heights Council. “People in South Heights don’t want to lose their water, and they don’t want to breathe air that could be intolerable.”

The owners of the former Phillips Power Station property, 54 acres including contiguous parcels in both South Heights and Crescent, met with officials from both communities in January to discuss the possibility of drilling for gas.

“Everything was preliminary, but we let them know we had concerns about our aquifer,” said Daniel Losco, general manager of Cresswell Heights.

The distance between the wells and the closest edge of the Phillips property is less than a half mile.

A week ago, Creswell Heights sent notices to customers making them aware of the possibility of gas drilling in the vicinity of the water wells.

“I felt angry and frustrated. As a public water customer, I feel powerless. I didn’t agree to anything,” Kathy Ujhazy, a Hopewell resident whose home overlooks South Heights, said.

Ujhazy is exploring the possibility of creating a citizens group to respond to the possibility of drilling, and is having an organizing meeting in her home next month.

“As citizens, what can we do?” she asked.

A DEP spokesman said no entities have applied for a drilling permit for the Phillips property, and online Beaver and Allegheny county records show no leases with a gas driller have been recorded.

“We don’t have any plans. We’re looking at all options,” Chris Squitiero, a Texas contractor and a partner in the Phillips Power Station ownership group, said. “I wish I could tell you we had a plan, but we don’t.”

Drilling for gas is among those options.

“It’s one potential use for the property, yes. The gas is there. We knew that from the beginning,” Squitiero said. “Another possibility is that we will sell the property.”

A third option would be to attract industry to the site, but that possibility is less than robust.

“With the economy the way it is, there aren’t a lot of people looking to get involved in anything right now. There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Squitiero said. “We don’t have an solid plan. We’re actively looking for possibilities.”

The property is undergoing a DEP-monitored remediation involving both groundwater and soil contaminated by the coal-burning Phillips plant, which operated from 1942 until 1987. When the cleanup is completed, the property can be used for industrial and commercial purposes, but not residential purposes, and the use of groundwater at the site will be prohibited, according to the DEP.

Schmetzer has concerns about the water, the air and the possibility of a well fire in the community. He also has concerns about new state laws that limit the power of local governments to place zoning or other restrictions on drillers.

“This is not a well in some farmer’s field. This (would be) a well next to a residential community.”

2 thoughts on “PDA’s Schmetzer Stands Up to Natural Gas Bulldozer”

  1. The state of Pa passed Act 13 HB1950 last week. This changed the way drilling would be done in this state.The fracking style drilling was sold to us as a process to be done away from communities and out in a rural zone. This new law change moves the industrial process into residential zones. Too close for real safety to take place. VOC’s or volitile organic compounds will be vented into the air. Once the well is fracked, a burnoff or flairing will occur. If the wind blows it into the neighborhoods , we will need an evacuation complete with busses, gas masks, and a refugee camp for the residents to safely stay. When the seal breaks in the pipeline due to train vibrations, heavy truck traffic, seismic activity,or age, then the aquifer will be contaminated. A frack water pond could overflow from rain, snow ,or wind and contaminate an already sensitive area to pollute the water source, as what happened in the past. Never to recover. With all the High Voltage Wires 380,000 volts going overhead, the possibility of a wire falling onto a gas well would be devastating. Special fire fighting crews from Texas would have to be flown here to put out the fire.Visual pictures of a residential area in San Bruno California gas fire still lingers in ones mind. The health, safety, and welfare of any community is the first rule of order. A study as to how any of these issues would be satisfied needs to be done first before proceeding any future talks.Contact Governor Corbett 800-932-0784, Senator Vogel 734-774-0444, Rep. Christiana 724-728-7655, Rep. Matzie 724-266-7774, and ask them to protect this aquifer. This is new to communities and will happen throughout the state.

  2. Everyone welcomes new jobs and economic activity but no one can accept the destruction of their water supply. We must come together and protect our water by any means necessary. Once the water is contaminated folks will not be able to sell their property to move away.

    A statistical study of drilling accidents that materially affect the water shows that one in twenty wells in Pennsylvania over the past few years has experienced such an accident. That may be acceptable where a few families lose their wells and water has to be replaced by city water. But in Ambridge and Creswell such an event would be catastrophic for thousands. It is a risk that no community of able and informed citizens will take.

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