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Westmoreland

Murrysville fracking ordinance may include 750-foot setback

Patrick Varine
| Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, 2:12 p.m.

Murrysville council will advertise an updated fracking ordinance that places setbacks at 750 feet between a well pad and a residence after a second lengthy debate this week that saw emotions flare on both sides.

Council voted 4-3 Wednesday in favor of a version of the ordinance that places a 750-foot setback between any protected structure and the edge of a fracking gas well pad. Within that setback, there is also a secondary 350-foot zone where no activity can take place.

Council members Josh Lorenz, Jamie Lee Korns, Tony Spadaro and Loren Kase voted in favor. Jeff Kepler, David Perry and council President Joan Kearns, who preferred a setback of at least 800 feet, voted no.

Spadaro said council needs to recognize that there is additional buffer space because of the distance from the edge of a well pad to the well itself.

“You're measuring from the edge of the well pad,” he said. “So your real setback is closer to 950 or, in some cases, probably 1,000 feet.”

Since municipal officials began developing the ordinance years ago, compromise on the setback has been to continually reduce it, a fact that was not lost on Kepler.

“What's the benefit to residents in reducing it?” Kepler asked. “I think we owe them an answer about that. I don't see it.”

Gas industry officials from Huntley & Huntley in Monroeville and Murrysville residents who have leased their rights to the company have consistently pointed to the state's 500-foot setback as a reasonable standard. Most residents who spoke against reducing the setback did not see it that way, asking council to impose at least a 1,000-foot setback.

“Reducing the setback to 700 (feet) is going in the wrong direction, and the only reason to do so is to make it more convenient for the drillers,” said Alyson Holt.

Resident Amy Mayberry, who holds a master's degree in environmental management with a focus on environmental toxicology, said even an 800-foot setback is “absolutely not sufficient” to protect residents.

“How many times have we realized only in retrospect that our failure to protect the environment has had devastating consequences on our families?” she asked.

Resident Lou Biesuz said fracking is not the most damaging type of development that has taken place in Murrysville.

“I would rather have a well pad by my house than one of these (housing) developments that rip up the woods, that most of (the people objecting to the ordinance) have moved into in the last 10 years,” he said.

Between industry officials and residents citing scientific data, one perspective that had not been previously addressed at council discussions was real estate data. Christa Ross of Murrysville, who works for real estate company Re/Max, cited a 2016 Duke University study of Pennsylvania homes that found the distance between homes and fracking wells directly affected sale prices, showing up to a $30,000 drop in price for homes located within 1.5 kilometers of a well. A kilometer is five-eighths of a mile. The 750-foot setback would permit wells less than 0.25 kilometers, or less than two-tenths of a mile, from homes.

“The fact is that being near a fracking well makes a home less desirable and makes it sell for less,” Ross said.

Councilman David Perry said that there is conflicting data when it comes to the safety of fracking. But, he noted, “perception is reality.”

“Whatever the data says, the perception is that people do not want to live near fracking well pads.”

Leaseholders would still be permitted to waive the setback requirements and place a well near their homes.

Council's vote to advertise the ordinance means it will now be forwarded to municipal and county planners for a 45-day comment period. After that, a new public hearing will take place, after which council can vote on adopting the ordinance.

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

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