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Murrysville's educational session on gas, oil drilling scheduled for April 27

Patrick Varine
| Friday, April 8, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

A doctor and a professor affiliated with a published paper about fracking that suggested more controls are needed to reduce health threats from the practice will be the featured guests at Murrysville's next public educational session on unconventional gas and oil drilling April 27.

Dr. Marsha Haley of the University of Pittsburgh's Cancer Institute and West Virginia University professor Michael McCawley are among the authors of the paper published in a peer-reviewed research journal, Environmental Health Perspectives. The paper studied the adequacy of setbacks in place for fracking operations in Marcellus and other shale formations in Texas and Colorado.

The research paper studied a number of things — including geography, air pollution studies and fracking regulations — to determine whether established setbacks between well pad sites and the public are adequate.

The paper concluded that research “suggest(s) that (existing) setbacks may not be sufficient to reduce potential threats to human health in areas where hydraulic fracturing occurs. It is more likely that a combination of reasonable setbacks with controls for other sources of pollution associated with the process will be required.”

Pennsylvania law mandates a 500-foot setback between well pads and buildings not associated with drilling operations. Murrysville's ordinance calls for an 800-foot setback.

Jerianne Benish of Irwin, who owns property on Hills Church Road in Murrysville, asked during an April 6 council meeting whether other fracking experts could be asked to speak during the 7 p.m. session in the municipal building at 4100 Sardis Road.

“I hope that council evaluates the plans for this session very carefully,” Benish said. “The first two have been very informational and unbiased ... I hope we continue it that way.”

She suggested that Indiana University of Pennsylvania professors Brian Okey and Nathan McElroy — who for five years have been studying land use near the Beaver Run Reservoir in Westmoreland County to assess the impact of Marcellus shale gas extraction in the region — be invited to the session.

Murrysville officials have not broadened the scope of the session, the third in a series being conducted while the borough works on making its unconventional gas drilling regulations more strict. The first educational session featured officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection; the second included representatives of a Monroeville gas drilling company.

“We're just trying to give a rounded view of the issue we're dealing with,” Chief Administrator Jim Morrison said.

Patrick Varine is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review.

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