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Scientist cites risk to water of drilling near Beaver Run

| Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Gas drilling near Beaver Run Reservoir poses many risks for the public water supply and could lower property values, according to an ecologist who took part in a panel discussion on Monday in Murrysville.

Cynthia Walter cautioned about 70 people in attendance that chemicals and diesel fuel being stored at well sites around the reservoir could contaminate the water.

“My role as an ecologist ... was to evaluate some of the risks from contamination,” she said.

The majority of people attending the forum are customers of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County. The forum gave residents an opportunity to ask questions of experts in regard to Marcellus shale drilling by Consol Energy on authority property.

Beaver Run Reservoir is a 1,300-acre lake in Bell, Washington and Salem townships that provides water to about 150,000 homes. Drilling began there in 2010.

Walter was joined on the panel by John Stolz, director of the Center for Environmental Research & Education at Duquesne University; Brien Palmer, president of Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Murrysville; and Jim Morrison, Murrysville chief administrator.

Declining to attend the forum were Consol Energy, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the municipal authority. In a letter, authority Manager Chris Kerr said reservoir water is routinely monitored by Indiana University of Pennsylvania researchers. The results are available online, Kerr wrote.

Walter criticized the municipal authority's website for lacking information about testing frequency and other details. It is “incomprehensible to the average citizen,” she said.

Incomprehensible to Palmer was the authority allowing drilling near the reservoir but not recreational activities, such as fishing and hunting.

“It just doesn't make much sense to me,” he said. “I think it's sort of a travesty of your trust and public stewardship.”

Morrison spoke about Murrysville's dealings with drilling in the municipality. Council has supported a legal challenge to Act 13, state-imposed regulations on drilling, that takes away local control over zoning.

Council passed rules governing drilling prior to Act 13's passage.

Morrison said volunteer groups are testing streams in Murrysville to establish baseline data, and he encouraged well owners to do the same. He asked for transparency from the municipal authority.

“People may not like what you have to say, but at least you've presented yourself and you're represented,” Morrison said.

Consol Energy declined to participate because the company will take part in a similar forum with the municipal authority in the coming months. The DEP said a representative couldn't attend the forum.

The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Local Authority of Western Pennsylvania, Westmoreland Green Party and the Mountain Watershed Association.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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