Supervisors concerned about drilling ordinances

RIDGWAY - Township supervisors from Elk County had concerns about the state’s new oil and gas drilling law versus local ordinances at a recent meeting of the Elk County Gas Task Force. Fox Township Supervisor and Roadmaster Randy Gradizzi and Jay Township Supervisor Murray Lilley questioned representatives from the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about protections in the new law (Act 13 of 2012) and whether they were sufficient to adequately shield area residents and water sources from the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling. Gradizzi asked about the new 1,000-foot limit from public water supplies. Provisions in the law increase the well setback distance to 1,000 feet for public water system; increase setback distance for streams, ponds, and other bodies of water from 100 to 300 feet; and increase setback distance from buildings and private water wells from 200 to 500 feet. "I’m talking a surface water system, the stream that feeds directly into the reservoir. Previously they were going 1,000 feet from the intake, which doesn’t do any good," Gradizzi said. DEP Oil and Gas Manager Craig Lobins attempted to clarify boundaries set according to the new law. "It’s 1,000 feet from the reservoir; it’s not from the intake, but it would be 1,000 feet from the reservoir, but it would not be from the stream that’s feeding the reservoir,” Lobins said. "With this new provision, it would have to be 1,000 feet from the reservoir, even though the intake might be a mile away from here. But if there’s a little stream now that’s feeding that reservoir, you’d have that 300-foot [setback] from stream to water bodies, because that stream is not considered part of that water system.” Gradizzi said such streams were a part of the water system in Fox Township and the protections may not be adequate if something happens due to Marcellus Shale drilling activities. "It’s a lot more than you had before, though,” Lobins said. “Not in Fox Township, it wasn’t,” Gradizzi said. “We adopted a zoning ordinance that would have kept them back 1,000 feet from any streams that supply a public water system, and there’s three of them in our township, and now we don’t have that anymore, and now it’s down to the 300 feet, so that’s why we didn’t like that [new provision].”Lobins explained that drilling even shallow wells can cause some sediment to appear in water systems because the force of the drill bit knocks it loose and smashes it up. “Anytime you’re drilling a well, even a water well, your drill bit is in direct contact with the aquifer,” Lobins said. “You’re making things muddy. And that mud is going some distance away from that borehole," Lobins said. He said when oil and gas regulations were first written, 200 feet was considered a good average setback from a drilling site to prevent impacting the groundwater. In Marcellus drilling, most of the companies use rotary drills, he said, which force air down the well bore and can also cause sediment to appear in local water sources.