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Published: June 11, 2014 print this article Print save this article Save email this article Email ENLARGE TEXT increase font decrease font

Residential drilling risks

It has come to my attention that the Butler Township Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the location of a natural gas well pad and several unconventional gas wells on a 32-acre property on Schaffner Road that is currently zoned R-1 (single family residential) on April 21. The pad and property, north of the AK Steel plant, is being called AK Steel Pad A.
It troubles me that this decision was not advertised or covered by the media, and there were no residents present at the meeting that spoke regarding it.
I have determined the current Butler Township zoning laws do not prohibit this type of activity in a residential area. I have been informed the township zoning laws were rewritten in 2012 to be in compliance with Act 13, which prohibited municipalities from zoning for the natural gas industry. However, Act 13 was overturned last fall, and was deemed unconstitutional. By that logic, zoning laws written to be in compliance with Act 13 must therefore also be unconstitutional. Prior to the zoning change in 2012, oil and gas drilling were permitted only in areas zoned for manufacturing or agriculture, which the township’s five current well pads are. I would suggest to the township, now that the ability to zone the gas industry has returned to individual municipalities, that the pre-2012 zoning laws be reinstated, and your approval of XTO Energy’s proposed pad on Schaffner Road be revoked.
The proposed well pad is less than 0.3 miles from Butler Township’s Preston park, which the township leased to XTO in March, also with no public comment and little fanfare. One cannot help but wonder if XTO would have the desire to drill these wells had the township not leased XTO almost 200 acres. The very close proximity to these parks raises my concerns about air pollution and emissions once the fracking and flaring processes begin.
In January, my father and I experienced a very foul chemical odor similar to burning plastic that burned my nose, throat and lungs while we were shoveling snow. We immediately went inside and waited for the air to clear. I knew several wells were being drilled on AK Steel property, and the wind was blowing from that direction. I was later informed by an air quality expert with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project that we had inhaled BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene) that are released during the fracking process and are very hazardous to human health. My house is 2.3 miles from the site, and we were severely affected.
By contrast, Butler Intermediate High School and Meridian Elementary School are 1.2 and 1.4 miles from the proposed site, respectively.
The recent fire at condensate holding tanks at a Rex Energy site on Meridian Road must also be raised. Residents in that area are very lucky that MarkWest workers constructing a pipeline saw the fire and called emergency crews. The condensate in the tanks was highly flammable, and had the material actually caught fire, likely the tanks would have exploded. We are very fortunate that an incident similar to the one in Greene County this February did not occur here, and that this was only a minor fire. One cannot help but wonder if this might happen again.
I plan to speak at the Butler Township Commissioners meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 16 in the township building. Any concerned residents who want to stand up for their rights to health, safety and happiness in a residential neighborhood need to attend at let the township know how they feel.

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Sam Hoszwa
Butler Township
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