State and federal law enforcement and emergency response officials spent Tuesday in Lycoming County learning about an issue with which local officials already are quite familiar - the gas industry.
Representatives from the State Police, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, state Office of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and others converged on the Pennsylvania College of Technology for Gas Well Education Day, a county-sponsored seminar focusing on potential issues related to gas exploration.
In addition to presentations at the college, attendees were given a tour of a gas drilling operation managed by Texas-based gas exploration company Chief Oil and Gas.
Dave Roberts, gas well site foreman, explains the drilling process and shows pipes to the local officals on the tour. See more photos at cu.sungazette.com.
The event was held to get officials up to speed on issues with which they may have to deal as the industry ramps up in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania, according to Craig Konkle, chairman of the Lycoming County Community Gas Exploration Task Force Public Safety sub-committee.
"It was apparent that there was a need for state level
emergency preparedness and response folks to be aware of what's happening in this part of the state," Konkle said.
According to Konkle, the event was designed to provide attendees with an "information-packed" day regarding gas industry issues.
"To get that many state level people in a room at the same time - we knew that opportunity wouldn't happen often because of their busy schedules, so we wanted to give them as much information as we could," he said.
The event kicked off with welcoming remarks by Konkle and county Commissioner Rebecca A. Burke.
Burke told attendees county government has taken a proactive approach to ensure natural gas development is a positive experience for residents and businesses.
Bruce Sampson, land acquisition manager for PA General Energy of Warren; Scott Blauvelt, general manager of health and safety for East Resources Inc. of Warrendale; and Ted Wurfel, environmental health and safety manager for Chief Gathering LLC, presented information on the gas exploration and development process, including leasing and construction, drilling, completion and production and compressor stations and pipelines.
Information included situations emergency response and law enforcement agencies may be confronted with at a gas well site, pipeline or other gas-related facility.
Following the presentations, attendees boarded a River Valley Transit bus and were taken to a gas drilling site near Lairdsville. The tour also included stops at a water impoundment pond and compressor station operated by the company.
After returning to the college, presentations were given by Ralph Tijerina and Irv Gleason of Range Resources of Canonsburg on emergency response challenges of the industry.
Dameon Scott of Chief Oil and Gas discussed security issues associated with gas drilling sites, and Barry Hutchins and William VanCampen of the county Department of Public Safety discussed mapping and county 911 Center issues.
Officials had positive comments regarding the gas drilling site tour.
"It certainly gives our commanders a first-hand perspective of challenges faced by industry workers and how they relate to public safety," said Lt. Col. Lenny Bandy, State Police deputy commissioner.
According to Bandy, issues his agency must deal with include the large number of commercial vehicles used by the industry and the large number of transient gas field workers attracted to the area.
State Fire Commissioner Ed Mann said the tour was a first for him.
"I've learned quite a bit today," Mann said.
"It's all a matter of education and understanding," he said. "I think these folks are doing an excellent job of outreach and education to provide the necessary knowledge to first responders."
John Yingling, director of the county Department of Public Safety, said the event was "good for building relationships between the companies and emergency responders and the people representing (Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency)."
Following the event, Konkle declared it a success, but added that more outreach is needed to ensure natural gas is developed safely.
"It was fantastic. I was really pleased," Konkle said. "Everything flowed well. I received a lot of good comments - all positive stuff."
Konkle said the county commissioners deserve credit for the event's success.
"If they don't have the foresight and desire to back initiatives like this, it isn't going to happen," he said. "They are 110 percent behind making Lycoming County a safe place to live."
"Where do we go from here? We can't stop," he said. "It has got to be a continual process."