At Monday's meeting of the St. Marys Area School District's Board of Directors, area residents questioned board members about information contained in a Daily Press article covering last Thursday's work session meeting of the board. At that meeting, SMASD Superintendent Anne Kearney said she had been approached by ELEXCO Land Services Company, with the company requesting permission to conduct seismic testing on the district's property at the Bennetts Valley Elementary School.
"The article talked about two parcels of land, a three-acre and an 11-acre parcel. I'd like to know where those parcels are in relationship to the school," said Mike Brock, a St. Marys resident.
In an attempt to locate the parcels, the board produced a map of the school property, but were unable to do so as parcel numbers were not represented on the map at hand. It was determined that parcel identification numbers could be found in the tax book, a copy of which could be reviewed publicly at the Elk County Courthouse.
"We don't know if they [the parcels] are close to the school or not close to the school?" Brock asked, adding that it is of vital importance that the board determine the exact location of the parcels in question.
"Are they right next to the school, are they five miles from the school, are they in a quasi-residential neighborhood?" he asked.
When asked what his concerns were regarding the proximity of the parcels in relation to the Bennetts Valley school building, Brock said that he would have "some serious concerns if it was next to the school." When asked by board members to elaborate, Brock cited a "massive well blow-out in June 2010 in Clearfield County."
Jacqueline Severance of St. Marys also addressed the board, saying she was alarmed by the prospect of oil and gas companies establishing a presence on or near school district property and children.
"Mrs. Kearney said that you want to have seismic testing done and that there probably isn't going to be any drilling on the property, but we have to worry about the adjacent properties and the fracking going horizontally and the effects of combustion problems and other problems other areas have faced with Marcellus drilling," Severance said. "It's my personal concern for the welfare for the kids in this area."
Kearney said the request of the school board by ELEXCO Land Services Company was "only a request to do seismic testing on this acreage," nothing more.
"It's seismic testing for a well, a potential well, why else would you have them testing?" Brock asked.
Kearney said that seismic testing is not necessarily an invasive process and that it should not be equated with drilling and the implementation of gas wells.
"This [seismic testing] does not mean a well would be drilled on our property. We certainly would never allow that so close to a school," she said.
When asked by Brock if the board would be putting the proposal to a vote that evening, Joe Goetz, SMASD board president, said the item was not officially listed on the agenda for Monday's meeting.
"Note was made that the application or request was made by this group ELEXCO Land Services, that they were doing seismic testing in that vicinity and made the request to come onto the school properties. We have not researched at this point which parcels they really are and it's not on the agenda tonight," Goetz said.
Kearney said the topic would be "opened up for discussion" and that the decision would have to formally go before the board as well as before SMASD Solicitor Nate Schmidt.
In addition, Brock asked about the status of the mineral rights for the property being discussed.
"On the forms we were given, it doesn't say on the form if we own the mineral rights for the 11 acres or not; on the one for the three-acre parcel, it says we own 100 percent of the mineral rights. I'm assuming we must own the mineral rights or they wouldn't have asked for permission," Kearney said.
Board members emphasized that they are still in the preliminary stages of the decision-making process and further review is necessary. Kearney said Brock's were the same questions the board wants to have answered and discuss at greater length.
Kearney added that she had told ELEXCO representatives that she would be in contact after Monday's meeting, but that the issue warrants further discussion.
"Our choices whether they are financial, educational, or personal are going to affect the futures of our kids and I ask that you do some research and think about this before making any decisions," Severance said.
"It's very much under study by the board in determining where it is, what's involved with it, what's their intent of the persons doing this seismic testing, and we'll move on from there," Goetz said.
Board member John Healy said that the board should better educate itself on the subject before proceeding.
"I think we need to do a lot more research on the issue before we decide anything. How they do it, what they plan to do and the possible impact on the school, if any," Healy said.