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Westmoreland

Murrysville weighs 700-foot buffer as fracking ordinance takes shape

Patrick Varine
| Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, 12:15 p.m.

After nearly four hours of debate over how to determine setbacks in their fracking ordinance, members of Murrysville council ended up about 100 feet from where they began.

Council next month will look at maps showing a 700-foot setback between any protected structures and the edge of a drilling well pad. Within that setback will be a 400-foot “sterile zone” where no construction or other activity can take place.

Where setbacks had originally been measured from the edge of a well pad outward, council consensus was to shift them to protected structures.

“I think you start with the most important thing, and that's the structure,” said council President Joan Kearns. “Our job is not to protect the distance to the well bore. Our job is to protect from the structure to the area of activity, the well pad. That's the area we are responsible for legislating.”

In the pending version of the ordinance, current setbacks include 250 feet around the edge of a well pad and 550 feet beyond that for a total of 800 feet between drilling activity and a nearby home.

While the newly suggested 700-foot buffer is a change, council members and drilling industry representatives have noted that on most well pads there generally is about 100 feet between the edge of the pad and any well-bore holes.

At a mid-December workshop, council seemed interested in measuring setbacks from the bore hole itself, as many other communities have done. Councilman Jeff Kepler said he had been open to that idea but had changed his mind.

“I really think we're not protecting our residents in any way if we're not using the edge of the well pad (for the setback),” Kepler said. “Homeowners who don't have a lease do not have a choice, and we need to protect them while at the same time protecting leaseholders' rights to use their property.”

Resident Alyson Holt agreed but noted her disappointment that council is considering reducing the 800-foot setback to 700 feet.

“The whole point of setbacks is to provide guaranteed minimum protection to the nearby, unsupportive neighbor,” Holt said. “By considering a reduction … council is ignoring the latest health and safety evidence, much of which was discussed at (its) health and safety education session.”

Resident Art Hawk, and several others who spoke in support of drilling, continued to point to the state's existing mandatory setback of 500 feet from the bore hole.

“I can hear both sides of the story, but you have to respect the people who own (leased) property, too,” Hawk said.

Councilman David Perry cautioned council about how its ultimate decision could affect the community in the future.

“Murrysville is a bedroom community with a school district,” he said. “Most folks who move here do not own their lease rights. They've been leased off long before the property was purchased. People expect a certain quality of life; that's why they move here. And if we start to move things so you can get close to structures, we diminish this community.”

Council will discuss maps with the new setbacks at its Feb. 1 meeting, with a possible vote to advertise the revised ordinance expected to be on its agenda.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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