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.”