Brockway residents question Flatirons’ proposal

BROCKWAY — Wednesday night, more than 150 people attended a public hearing to voice their concerns about a gas company’s proposal to drill in Brockway borough.

Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-25), state Rep. Sam Smith (R-66) and state Rep. Matt Gabler (R-78), called the meeting to give Brockway residents the opportunity to get answers from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Flatirons Resources, the company whose proposal has caused dissatisfaction for local residents.

“Tonight’s purpose is for people to be able to come here to ask questions directly of DEP, directly of Flatirons and get answers,” Scarnati said. “And I am very hopeful that we can have a very informative and helpful format for everybody.”

Flatirons Resources LLC is an independent oil and gas company based in Denver, with an branch office in DuBois.

Larry Moore and Todd Huey, both of Flatirons Resources, gave a presentation about the company, and showed attendees a video about the horizontal gas well drilling process.

Moore said the company has completed wells in 11 states and has received more than 400 leases.

One of the wells the company completed is in Brockway, as the company drilled and fracked Well No. 6 in the Rattlesnake and Whetstone portions of the Brockway watershed.

But now, the company is looking to drill Well No. 5.

At the meeting, the first person to ask a question was Dave McKolanis, of DuBois, who asked Flatirons why it decided to drill a well in Rattlesnake Creek in the first place, since it is considered to be a high-quality reservoir.

High-quality reservoirs, or water sheds that are in “pristine” condition, are not allowed to be polluted or deteriorated in any way.
A Flatirons rep said the company bought mineral rights under leases and has been abiding by the rules set forth by DEP.

The rep also said it doesn’t do any good to drill water where the company can’t sell gas.

Scott Perry, deputy secretary for the Oil and Gas Program, said protecting water quality and particularly protecting the drinking water supply is most important to him, and he believes Flatirons Resources has adhered to state law.

“We’ve had a lot of oil and gas wells that have been developed near pristine streams and rivers,” Perry said. “I don’t care if it’s the Susquehanna River or my favorite trout stream or the Brockway Municipal Authority Water Supply, I don’t want to see anything getting into the waters of the commonwealth.”

Perry said to consider a well permit is to ensure a driller such as Flatirons Resources is adhering to well-construction standards, adding that DEP has worked “very vigorously” to improve those standards by making them more restrictive.

“I don’t want to really talk a lot about responding to spills and events,” Perry said. “Our job is to ensure that they don’t occur in the first place ... when it comes to protecting water supplies. We don’t want to be dealing with a reaction. We want to be proactive. We want to ensure there is no impact in the first place.”

During his presentation, Huey also informed the audience that his company has a Preparedness, Prevention and Contingency (PPC) plan in place, as required by DEP, which is used in the event of an emergency.
Huey also said that Flatirons performs annual, semi-annual and monthly reporting.

Bruce Miller, a member of the Brockway Area Clean Water Alliance, said the new proposed well Flatirons is looking to permit is within 1,000 feet of Brockway borough’s water source.

He asked Scarnati if he would allow the company to drill with House Bill 1950 now in place.

But according to a DEP official, House Bill 1950, which was urged on by Scarnati, and recently passed Gov. Tom Corbett, says that no “new” well can be drilled within 1,000 feet of a rock reservoir or public water supply well.

However, if there’s already an existing pad with a well permit on it, and the existence of a well site, then distance restrictions do not apply, and Flatirons Resource is not affected by the bill in this instance.

“I guess then that House Bill 1950 didn’t do us any good,” Miller said. “What in House Bill 1950 does help our watershed to keep this drilling from going on?”

In answer to Miller’s question, Perry said it clearly contemplates future pad development.

“If there’s not an existing pad at the time the law goes into effect April 14, then those distance provisions of 1,000 feet apply,” Perry said.

Another member of the Brockway Area Clean Water Alliance, P.J. Piccirillo, also voiced his concerns, especially in regard to the lack of response from the legislators.

He said Smith has not responded to three of his letters, and asked him if he was “on the wrong side of the table?”

But Scarnati defended the work he, Smith and Gabler have done to protect the people they represent.

“There isn’t anybody in this room that’s from Brockway that I don’t either see on the streets, in the post office, in the grocery store or at Mass, and I have been accessible,” Scarnati said. “There isn’t one person that hasn’t called, written or e-mailed me that I haven’t responded to.”

House Bill 1950 imposes an impact fee on Marcellus Shale gas extraction. It was signed into law early last week and gives counties the authority to pass ordinances to allow municipalities and townships to collect impact money.

The Jefferson County Commissioners approved their portion of the law last Tuesday.

But to some residents, such as Miller, this is not enough, and he would like to see no drilling — at all — in the borough’s watershed.

“I’m proud of this town, and I’m proud of representing this town,” Scarnati said. “ ... I’m not going to let this town look like people that aren’t going to hear a debate and hear information. DEP came here tonight to give you information ... and if you want to hear me pontificate, or Sam Smith pontificate about things in Harrisburg, I can do that all night, but that’s not getting us anywhere.”

DEP officials said they will not make a decision on Flatirons proposal to drill in the watershed until after March 14. Kelly Burch, the northwest regional director for DEP, added that the agency will reassess the watershed in April.