Murrysville to tighten drilling ordinance

| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Murrysville Council has rejected an offer to drill under one of its parks, and officials say they want to tighten the municipal Marcellus shale drilling ordinance before any company files for a permit to drill in the municipality.

“This is an emotional issue for many people, a scary issue for many people. Somewhere along the way, you have to cross your fingers and hope that whatever decisions made are the best decision,” Council President Joan Kearns said. “But until the current issues are resolved, ain't nothing going to happen.”

Council last week voted down a measure that would have solicited bids for the Marcellus shale gas rights under Murrysville Community Park. Council also instructed chief administrator Jim Morrison to tell Monroeville-based Huntley & Huntley that council is not interested in the unsolicited lease offer it made to Murrysville.

“Even if you wanted (to lease the gas rights), you don't want that lease,” Councilman Dave Perry said.

Huntley & Huntley officials had submitted a lease offer to the municipality earlier this year, which prompted officials to consider soliciting bids for the gas rights to the 262-acre Murrysville Community Park along Wiestertown Road.

Huntley & Huntley officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Councilman Jeff Kepler said he advocated for officials to focus on rewriting the ordinance to make sure that all drillers who come into the municipality are following stricter regulations.

“For me, the idea of (bidding the gas rights) was to have leverage to get more out of the operators than they had to do,” Kepler said.

“That's changed considerably. With Act 13, we have the leverage, if we decide to do that.”

Had council approved the proposal to solicit bids, residents had the option to circulate a petition to put a referendum regarding the park's gas rights on the November ballot. However, Morrison said, there wasn't much interest from residents in pursuing that venture.

About 15 residents at the May 7 meeting applauded when Kearns said the municipality would not be soliciting any bids for the park's gas rights and instead would focus on updating the municipal drilling ordinance.

But that doesn't mean those rights won't be leased eventually.

“The decisions of this council always can be reversed by a future council,” Kearns said. “Nothing is cast in concrete except the sidewalks out front and this building, hopefully.”

Several residents spoke against allowing fracking in the municipality and reiterated worries about the safety of the process and the chemicals used.

“The gas industry uses all kinds of chemicals. How would we know what to test for?” asked Dr. Robert Brown, a radiologist who lives in Murrysville. “Is the money gained from this venture worth any of us developing cancer?”

A task force has begun reviewing the municipal drilling ordinance, which permits surface drilling in a designated district. Subsurface drilling can take place anywhere in the municipality if the well pad is built within the designated area.

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