Gas drilling company drops plans for seismic testing in Oakmont

An oil and gas company has dropped plans to conduct a seismic survey in Oakmont after the borough approved an ordinance regulating such exploratory operations.

The Monroeville-based company, Huntley & Huntley Inc., had planned to include the borough in a geological survey meant to identify potential drilling sites in parts of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties. But it appears that the new restrictions have affected those preparations.

“Huntley & Huntley has made the decision to forgo any seismic survey work in Oakmont altogether,” company spokesman Benjamin Komlos said in an email this week. He declined to elaborate on the decision, saying any additional comment is a “moot point at this time.”

Used to identify oil and gas reserves by mapping underground rock formations, seismic testing involves creating shock waves by explosive charges or heavy-duty trucks using earth-shaking metal plates. Devices resembling microphones, known as geophones, are placed in holes and record how long it takes the shock waves to return to the surface.

Huntley & Huntley had no plans to drill in the borough, Mr. Komlos said in May. But he added that horizontal well bores the company drills nearby could extend into the borough, beneath property it leases. Some property owners have signed leases with the company that permit seismic testing, he noted.

The regulatory measures cover borough property, including its rights of way. They are meant to “promote the public health, safety and welfare and practical community development” of the borough, the ordinance reads, while permitting seismic testing that would have the “least detrimental impact.”

The ordinance was approved by council at a special meeting last week, a little more than a month after the borough held a public meeting on the planned survey. The July 3 meeting drew about three dozen people, a borough official said.

Under the new rules, companies seeking to conduct seismic testing in Oakmont must apply for a permit from the borough, for a $500 non-refundable fee, as well as pay an additional $5,000 that would go into an escrow account. The permits would remain effective for one year.

The applications would go before the borough engineer for review and would include details such as the types of explosives involved in the testing as well as a plan to control automobile traffic.

Testing is permitted between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. during weekdays and is prohibited on holidays. Companies would have to notify any property owners within a 125-foot radius of the site of a seismic test.

Any company that “knowingly” violates the rules is subject to a misdemeanor charge and a fine of as much as $1,000, the ordinance says. Each day in violation would constitute a separate offense.

The restrictions come as the borough is updating its ordinance regulating oil and gas exploration in residential areas.

Jake Flannick, freelance writer:

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