PA Town Takes Innovative Approach in Drilling Oversight

Instead of trying to regulate Marcellus drilling inside municipal borders, Benton Township (Lackawanna County), PA took a different approach when Southwestern Energy recently drilled an exploratory well. Benton hired an independent engineer to monitor drilling and construction of the well. According to township officials, the process has been “an ‘unequivocal’ success.”

The idea, supervisor Larry Seymour said, is "monitoring as opposed to controlling" the operation. "The issue really is getting the desired outcomes and avoiding unanticipated negative consequences."

Michael F. Pokalsky, a petroleum engineer and the owner of Blue Flame Energy LLC, witnessed critical procedures, including the installation of steel casing and cement that seal off gas and fluids in the well from the drinking water aquifer as well as pressure tests to ensure the strength of the cement barrier. All of those operations were completed without incident, Pokalsky said.

The engineer had no regulatory power but could have alerted state regulators if he had seen any problems. Before and after drilling began on Nov. 28, Pokalsky was given broad access to the site at all hours of the day. He offered the township information, explanations and peace of mind.

"I go out there for critical operations from start to finish so the town has their own witness and they know it was done properly," he said.

The township expects Pokalsky’s monitoring of the exploratory well to cost it about $5,500. An exact bill will likely to be ready for the Jan. 3 meeting, Seymour said.

The use of an independent engineer is a novel concept the township built into its conditional use approval of Southwestern’s gas well. The concept is modeled on the landfill inspectors and state-certified sewer enforcement officers hired by municipalities to monitor facilities within their borders.*

*Wilkes-Barre The Citizens’ Voice (Jan 2, 2012) – Benton monitoring of gas well called ‘the right thing to do’

  • jwozniak

    The operative phrase is “loss of control.” We Pennsylvanians, especially those of us whose ancestors lived through the coal boom and are still living among the ruins of it, feel that the gas boom has robbed us of control of our destinies. We are blasted by propaganda by corporations more interested in producing spin than cleaning up their acts and EARNING citizen trust through deeds. We have a government awash in corporate money, more than willing to ignore the needs of its constituency. We have a regulatory apparatus in denial, more interested in protecting industry than the environment. We Pennsylvanians feel we’re being steamrollered by the hale gas industry, which does not care a flying fig about our health and safety. Social media makes it possible for us to trade war stories and obtain moral support and tactical advice from people in other communities like, say, Dish, Texas.

  • Anonymous

    Well, jwozniak,since I have not heard back from you on previous requests for answers on steps you would take to get this economy out of the crapper its been in for the last five years, I have a solution for you!! I see your typical whining comments continue without any resolutions.So the way I see it, you can actually get “involved” and “help” your community by taking some action . If you feel ” steamrolled”( as you say) by the gas companies drilling in your area, why haven’t you or your local government hire an independent Engineer to monitor the process? You commented on the above article with nothing but whining. With all that money being made in your County, by Landowners, and probably yourself, it makes perfect sense for you to get involved and make sure they( Those nasty gas people) don’t take advantage of you. Stop whining, get proactive, you’ll feel better about your community and yourself and maybe won’t be so angry all the time. Maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how hard those ( nasty gas people) work. Oh by the way I heard from previous posts your father made his living in the coal industry, I’m sure he was a hard working man and gave you a pretty good life. I can’t fathom how you can shoot down an industry that fed you, put a roof over your head, and probably sent you to college.

  • Anonymous

    Fantastic Idea!!. All Municipalities that intend to have drilling in their township should hire a person like Pokalsky. When the licenses are issued there should be a clause that allows an engineer from the town to inspect as well as members of the state. Kudos to that town for watching out for it’s constituents. I would be all for that. Of course that persons salary will easily be paid for by the production of NG. Another way to ensure everyone is doing their jobs right.