Olympus Energy’s proposed Marcellus shale gas well operation in Washington Township is moving forward, but that didn’t sit well with dozens of residents.
The township supervisors voted unanimously Thursday to grant Olympus’ application to construct the Athena well pad on a site between Kistler Road and Thompson Road. It’s not far from where Route 66 intersects with Kistler.
That approval came after a sometimes chaotic public meeting attended by about 60 residents of the Kistler Road-Lockwood Road area who objected to the Olympus proposal.
Their comments and questions centered mainly on fears about extensive truck traffic on their roads and accompanying safety concerns.
In the end however, the supervisors said they had little recourse. They said because Olympus has mineral rights and possible surface rights, they have the right to develop the well site as long as it complies with federal, state and township regulations.
“We want to listen to everyone’s voice, but in reality, this is going to happen,” Supervisors Chairman Rich Gardner told the crowd.
The well site is about a half-mile from the Kistler-Route 66 intersection but Olympus officials believe a sharp bend in Kistler poses a problem for trucks, particularly those with wide loads.
To avoid that bend, Olympus officials originally proposed having trucks come in on the other side of that bend.
Doing that called for trucks to turn off Route 66 onto Route 286 (Saltsburg Road) then turn onto Lockwood Road. They would travel about a mile south to Lockwood’s intersection with Kistler, and then turn left to reach the well site less than a half-mile away.
Lockwood Road has about 40 single-family homes along that mile stretch, while Kistler has only four between Lockwood and Route 66.
“It’s a safety issue for the children, it’s a safety issue for everyone who lives there,” one resident said.
Residents said they were concerned about the traffic during good weather months when children are playing outside. They were also worried about being caught in a road shutdown during times when the wide loads are being delivered. Lockwood Road is only 18 feet wide.
They also voiced concern about access for school buses and emergency vehicles.
“We asked them to go out and make some test runs to see if that turn on Kistler was as unnavigable as they thought, and it’s my understanding they did that,” said Wes Long, township solicitor.
Nik Softcheck, roadway advisor for Olympus, said that was done. He said company officials found that the majority of the truck traffic can use Kistler right off of Route 66, avoiding Lockwood.
“What we are talking about now is a drastic reduction in traffic,” Softcheck said.
He said there are three phases to the well site development: construction, drilling and completion.
In that first phase, Softchek said about 30 oversized loads would use Lockwood over the first two weeks of that phase, which will run from this month to May.
Meanwhile, he said there will be between 800 and 1,000 trucks using Kistler Road.
For the second phase, running from September through December, about 25 oversized loads would use Lockwood while 225 would use Kistler.
In the final phase, expected to be from June through August 2023, about 15 oversized trucks will travel Lockwood while 235 trucks will use Kistler.
Conceding to a point made by some residents, Softcheck those numbers would likely double when considering the truck trips leaving the site.
He said that while far more trucks would be using Kistler, it could not handle all of them specifically because of wide loads.
Softcheck said trees along Kistler as well as embankments along the road would prevent that. However, he said the trips on Lockwood might further decrease once the wide loads are unloaded, possibly allowing those trucks to exit the site via Kistler and Route 66.
“We’ll do our best to use Kistler, but most of those would have to go back out Lockwood,” Softcheck said.
“Anything we can take out (via) Kistler, we’ll take out Kistler,” said Jeremy Burden, Olympus vice president for engineering.
Burden said that trucks traveling Lockwood would use pilot vehicles and the vehicles would remain close to each other so that residents would not get stuck in the midst of a convoy. Also, there would be traffic controls such as flaggers, to help ease traffic problems.
The Olympus officials also said there would be “blackout” times when truck traffic on the road would be prohibited while school buses are traveling local roads. The supervisors said that would be coordinated through the township and Kiski Area School District.
As for emergency vehicles, Gardner said Olympus has to make provisions to allow them access.
Residents unsuccessfully argued for the supervisors to delay their vote on the application for two more weeks to allow residents to study the plan, ask questions and provide input.
Gardner, who met with residents Monday night to answer questions, said that’s why the supervisors delayed a vote on the application at its Jan. 13 meeting to Thursday.
After consulting with Long in a closed-door executive session, Gardner said the supervisors said it was in the interest of everyone to proceed with a March 2 deadline for approval looming.
He and Long both said a delay would not change the situation.
Long said he had a six-page list of conditions that the township is asking Olympus to agree to as part of the application approval. Those conditions, which Long read aloud, cover a wide range of issues from company maintenance of township roads to sound-walls around the well pad to a 72-hour limit in which to address residents’ complaints.
He emphasized that if approval is not voted on by the supervisors by March 2, it would be considered a “deemed approval” under the law and Olympus could proceed without any conditions.
“Olympus doesn’t have to agree to any of this,” Long said. “I would rather work with Olympus as a good neighbor to get them to agree to these conditions that will help protect the residents.”
Gardner said although Olympus is new to the township, the township has dealt with CNX, another well driller, for 15 years using similar conditions. He said there have been no problems.
Burden indicated that Olympus can live with the conditions sought by the township.
“They are almost identical to the conditions that other communities have,” said Brian Dillemuth, regulatory advisor for Olympus.
“We realize that this is going to be an inconvenience,” Gardner told the residents. “We’re trying to minimize the aggravation to the least amount of people.
“We’re looking at what’s best for everybody in the township, and what’s best here is keeping us out of court.”