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Murrysville group wants to test air quality before and after Marcellus shale drilling

| Friday, April 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A group of environmentally conscious Murrysville residents plan to start monitoring air quality to gauge changes should Marcellus shale drilling occur in the municipality.

The Murrysville Stream Monitoring Group is considering expanding its mission to track the quality of air, in addition to stream water. The expansion could include a partnership with the municipality.

“We're interested in the water and air and land around us,” said Joe Guthrie, the group's organizer. “A lot of people won't get interested until they get affected.”

The group would collect data to determine a baseline for air quality in the municipality before drilling, then continue collecting data to determine how drilling affects it.

Because air monitors are expensive — some models cost $3,000 — Guthrie suggested forming a partnership with the municipality. Ideally, he said, the group would obtain three monitors.

“We're willing to explore those options,” said Jim Morrison, chief administrator for the municipality. “I think it needs some research and discussion before we can even comment on it.”

The municipality has an ordinance that designates an overlay district where unconventional oil drilling, including drilling for Marcellus shale, can occur.

Morrison said, however, that no permits have been issued for unconventional oil drilling.

Several citizen groups across the state are collecting air data, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. That data is not considered official because the state must use its own collection methodology to sign off on results.

“We certainly want people to be vigilant and to take an interest in clean air and clean water,” said John Poister, a spokesman for the southwestern region of the DEP.

“We would welcome them to give us any information they collect,” he said. “If we saw something we'd want to investigate further, we'd go out and do our own testing.”

The DEP has begun collecting data in Washington County.

After three short-term studies completed in 2010, the agency began a long-term study last summer to track air-quality changes there.The study is focused on characterizing air pollutants from permanent facilities related to the Marcellus shale gas industry, such as compressor stations and gas processing plants.

The DEP will collect samples from four monitoring sites to assess potential emissions. The study will continue through July.

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or adolasinski@tribweb.com.

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