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Huntley & Huntley aims to drill near Murrysville Community Park

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By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Wednesday, June 5, 2013, 8:46 p.m.

A Monroeville-based drilling company hopes to obtain the rights to drill under Murrysville Community Park as part of a plan to bring Marcellus shale drilling to the municipality as early as 2018.

An official with Huntley & Huntley said the company is interested in drilling below the 305-acre park, but would not want to build any drilling pads on the parkland.

“Our crack crystal ball says (Murrysville) is out a couple of years — we are leasing there to develop,” said Michael Hillebrand, executive vice president of Huntley & Huntley. We are always interested in (Murrysville Community Park). We have all of the property surrounding the park.”

The municipality owns the oil and gas rights to the park. If municipal officials were to agree to lease the oil and gas rights, a portion of the profit from the sale of any gas extracted from the Marcellus shale — a rock formation located more than a mile underground — would be paid to the municipality.

No proposal has been made to the municipality, officials said. Chief Administrator Jim Morrison said he expects the company to make an offer eventually.

“No question, their intent is to drill here,” Morrison said.

In late 2012, Huntley & Huntley spent almost $1.2 million to buy 202 acres in the northeastern part of Murrysville. One of those properties, the 94-acre Caywood estate located along Beulah Road, is near Murrysville Community Park. An additional 108 acres straddling the Murrysville-Export border also was purchased.

Hillebrand, a Murrysville resident, said the company isn't going to invest in land it doesn't plan to use.

“We're very focused with our leasing — we can't afford to lease without plans to develop,” Hillebrand said. Western Westmoreland County and eastern Allegheny County have been the company's “playground,” he said.

Council President Joan Kearns noted that council is aware that Huntley & Huntley is trying to “sew up” gas leases in the municipality. She was not surprised to hear that the company is interested in the parkland.

Councilman David Perry said he knows residents have environmental concerns about potential drilling in Murrysville. Any proposal made will have to be discussed publicly to ensure that council's decision would be in the best interest of the residents, he said.

“Drilling is going to occur within Murrysville regardless of whether a lease is signed to allow extending laterals under MCP,” Perry said. “Therefore, successful negotiations with a producer would allow us to have far more input into controlling environmental impacts and disturbances to our residents, as well as providing an income source that doesn't increase taxes on the residents.”

Hillebrand said his company won't rush shale development and wants to do it right.

“I don't want to see anything done other than the right thing – good, common-sense use of surface property,” Hillebrand said.

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

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