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Murrysville group proactively tests local waterways for contamination

| Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

A group of Murrysville residents want to make sure nothing is contaminating local streams.

For the past several weeks, members of the Murrysville Stream Monitoring Group have been checking eight local waterways to find out which pollutants, if any, are in the streams.

“All we're looking for is better safety,” said Ellen Spain, coordinator of communication and education for the group. “If we see something, we'll tell someone about it. Our concern now is testing as many streams from the source to past a drilling site.”

The group checks Haymaker Run, Turtle Creek, Pucketa Creek, Lyons Run, Steel Run, Thompson Run, Poke Run and streams near Beaver Run Reservoir — where Consol Energy has more than a dozen Marcellus shale wells — on a weekly basis. Test results are sent to Dickinson College for analysis, Spain said. Some of those water sources also are monitored by the Turtle Creek Watershed and Mountain Watershed programs.

Joe Guthrie organized the group after he and his wife, Wanda, found out about a workshop last winter on stream monitoring. At the time, the pair were entrenched in citizen movements to ensure Marcellus shale drilling wouldn't damage the area or its water supply.

“It seemed like something that might be a good thing for Murrysville to do,” Guthrie said. “There were others interested in getting out and doing something as opposed to just going to meetings and talking about it.”

About 20 people were trained to monitor streams, but the group has about eight active members working on Murrysville streams.

Ideally, Guthrie said the group will monitor 10 points in each of the streams.

Each team needs to have two volunteers, Spain said, but the group isn't fully staffed yet. Spain said she hopes more people will volunteer to work with the group.

“Our streams are very long,” she said. “We go out as a team to monitor the stream starting at the source, which in some cases like Lyons Run, is in Penn Township. We need volunteers from everywhere.”

The group's interest in Beaver Run Reservoir stems from concerns about the affects of Marcellus shale drilling at the site. Consol began drilling at the reservoir in 2010, and officials at the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County contracted with Indiana University of Pennsylvania to monitor water in and near the reservoir.

Though water authority officials have said they are happy with the results IUP students have received, those results have not been made public.

Spain said the drilling at Beaver Run is concerning because boats and other recreation have been banned from the property.

“The fact is we're talking about a drinking water reservoir that has been kept so pure, at least during my lifetime,” she said. “Something that could be hazardous to the environment is drilling right there.”

The eventual goal is to track any changes to the streams, whether physical or chemical, she said. With dozens of Marcellus shale leases established in Murrysville — though no drillers have applied for permits — the group wants to find out what condition local streams are in before drilling begins, organizers said. There also is concern about drainage from coal mines.

“There's interest in not only getting a measurement for Marcellus shale, in case it comes, but also, there's a lot of mine drainage around here,” Guthrie said. “We want to make people aware that we're doing this. There's a lot of interest in keeping our streams clean and healthy.”

Eventually, the group will be able to tell what, if any, environmental impacts construction and drilling have on the community's streams, Spain said.

“The government just doesn't have the people power to do this, and we shouldn't be relying on profit-making businesses (like drilling companies) to self-monitor,” Spain said. “Maybe the companies will appreciate us, even.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8627 or

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