The thought of a fire at a natural gas well in Butler, like the recent gas well fire in Greene County, does not discourage Mayor Tom Donaldson from wanting the city to market its land to natural gas companies.
“I could get struck by a bus walking across the street,” Donaldson said. “There’s a risk with everything.”
The city in January hired the Dick Landowners Group of Central City, Somerset County, to market about 90 acres mostly around Memorial Park. Donaldson said the city has yet to receive any interest in the land.
On Feb. 11, a Chevron gas well in Greene County erupted into flames, leaving one worker dead and another injured. The fire was so hot that emergency crews were not able to go near it to attempt to put it out. The fire finally went out on its own Saturday afternoon. The cause of the fire is unknown. It will take until next week for the well to be capped.
The Butler School District has no gas wells on its property, but it does have two wells near elementary schools and a third one will be built, according to Glenn Terwilliger, district maintenance supervisor. He said there is a well owned by XTO that is 825 feet away from Summit Township Elementary School, and there is another XTO well 2,400 feet away from McQuistion Elementary School. An approved well that hasn’t yet been built will be 2,300 feet away from Connoquenessing Elementary School. It is owned by Rex Energy. None of the gas wells are on school district property.
Terwilliger said extensive water testing is done near Summit Elementary, as requested by the state, but that would happen regardless of whether the gas well was there. He added there are emergency shutdown procedures at all schools, including evacuation and ventilation shut downs. The Greene County fire served as a reminder of the dangers of natural gas drilling for Center Township officials.
“The emergency people could not get within 300 yards of that site because of the high heat there,” said Ron Olsen, the township engineer. “I want to make sure that these pipes that are put in are put in to code and are inspected properly. It’s going to be a big thing a few years from now.”
The township does not have any natural gas wells on its property, although several private properties there are to have natural gas well constructed soon.
In September, XTO Energy told the Slippery Rock School Board that it was looking to lease 1.33 acres at Moraine Elementary School in Prospect for natural gas extraction. Later that month, some members of the public urged the board not to allow drilling on the property.
Superintendent Kathy Nogay said there has been no discussion by the school board since then, and said the topic is not a priority for school officials.After the gas well fire in Greene County, the citizens group Marcellus Outreach Butler has been calling for such activity to be kept at least one mile away from schools.In a news release, the group said there have been several well fires in the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.It called on legislators and regulators to take action to “protect our children” by not allowing gas wells near schools.
Eagle staff writers John Bojarski, Will DeShong and Kate Malongowski contributed to this report.