Shale lease debate begins in Murrysville
By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Published: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 10:33 a.m.
Drilling in a community park could rake in millions of dollars for the Murrysville, but residents need to the risk versus the reward, officials said.
On Wednesday, municipal officials confirmed that Monroeville-based drilling company Huntley & Huntley has offered $2,250 per acre for the right to drill under 260 acres of Murrysville Community Park in addition to 12.5 percent of the royalties earned from selling whatever gas is extracted. By mid-April, officials will review an ordinance that would allow the municipality to seek bids for the gas rights. However, officials said that they hope residents petition for a referendum on the November ballot to allow residents their say.
“The citizens are the best ones to make the decision,” Councilman Dave Perry said. “Is it worth doing?”
Some residents don't think so.
The park was placed in the municipal drilling district in 2010, when officials developed its drilling ordinance, resident Leona Dunnett said that at the time, officials offered assurances that the municipality would have more control over the park if it was in the drilling district.
“I don't even know why this is a question,” Dunnett said. “Do you really want your children to play soccer downwind of a compressor station? I'm not clear why we are at this discussion.”
One reason is because Huntley & Huntley already has obtained land abutting the park along Evans Road, including 93 acres of the Caywood property. Murrysville Chief Administrator Jim Morrison warned residents that not allowing drilling in the park won't keep Marcellus shale projects out of the municipality.
Morrison said he is confident the park would not be harmed.
“I believe that we have maximum protection on that park,” Morrison said. “The question is, do we lease the rights or not? Regardless of what happens, they are going to drill on that property.”
Given those nearby leases, why not make some money, resident Lou Biesuz asked.
“I feel we can either let them drill all around our park and take 10 percent of our gas that's going to seep onto their property or we can say go under our property and (be paid) enough money to go out and buy bleachers and fences and another 500 acres,” Biesuz said. “It's a no-brainer to me.”
The proposal isn't a done deal, officials said. The next several months will be spent educating residents and officials about the options and potential affects of the decision, Council President Joan Kearns said.
“This is not an overnight process,” Kearns said. “It will be an educational process for all of us.”
That's important, resident Anita Smolinski said. She wants to know more about what the municipality will get out of the deal.
“Are we selling our soul for a thousand dollars?” she asked. “As far as I can see, there are a lot of unknowns here. How can anyone have a valid opinion unless they have concrete ideas.”
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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