Franklin Park delays vote on fracking lease, sets Jan. 14 public meeting to hear residents’ concerns
Concerns about a proposal to allow drilling for shale gas under Linbrook Park in Franklin Park prompted borough council to delay voting on the measure.
To address some of the concerns raised by residents, the borough will hold an information session at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 14 at the activity center in Blueberry Hill Park.
The borough’s environmental advisory committee also recommended that the meeting be held to discuss the possible problems as well as the benefits of allowing drilling, said borough manager Regis Ebner.
“A number of residents called before the last meeting and asked that the measure be tabled so that more information can be gathered,” he said. “There will be at least two experts at the meeting on Jan. 14 to answer questions and residents will have an opportunity to comment.”
About 130 attended the Dec. 19 council meeting where the proposal was scheduled for a vote, according to Ebner. A majority of those who addressed council raised concerns about the potential risks to the environment from drilling. Several residents said they supported allowing drilling.
The proposal being considered is a five-year lease that would allow FirstEnergy Corp. to drill under the 80-acre park in exchange for an upfront payment to the borough of $283,500 plus an a 18-percent royalty on the value of any gas that is extracted.
If the company gets the go-ahead, it plans to place the well head about 3/4 of a mile outside the park in neighboring Economy borough in Beaver County, Ebner said.
“There won’t be a well in or near the park and no trucks will be going in and out,” Ebner said.
The manager noted that even if the borough passes on the contract with FirstEnergy, nothing would prevent drilling companies from entering into agreements with private property owners.
On the same night council was scheduled to vote on the FirstEnergy agreement, a second measure designed to set rules for drilling operations in the borough was approved as a “pending ordinance,” which means even though the law has not been formally approved, drillers will have to adhere to its restrictions.
Among the stipulations outlined in the ordinance is a restriction on where drilling will be permitted in the borough.
“We can’t create general restrictions against drilling, which is regulated by the state,” Ebner said. “But we can adopt limits on the locations where it can take place.”
Under the proposal, drilling in Franklin Park would only be allowed in the mostly rural northwest quadrant of the borough near the border with Marshall Township, Ebner said, adding that the area also contains state game lands.
“The rule of thumb we tried to follow with this ordinance is to only allow drilling in areas that have the least impact,” Ebner said. “They’re not going to be able to come in a drill wherever they want.”
The public meetings at which the fracking lease has been discussed is not the only source of information council has about what residents think about the proposal.
Earlier this year the borough mailed 5,298 surveys to residents about the matter.
A total of 1,674 residents, or 31.6 percent of those who received the survey, responded.
Of the responses received, 45.7 percent said they “strongly oppose” the lease and another 8.2 percent said they “oppose” the measure.
Among the respondents, 8.2 percent said the were “neutral” on the matter, 17 percent said they “supported” the lease and 20.9 percent said they “strongly” supported entering into the contract.
The results of the survey were published in the borough newsletter distributed to residents.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368 or [email protected] or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.