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Amendment drafted in Murrysville to regulate gas drilling

| Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010

Murrysville officials realize they can't keep Marcellus shale drilling out of the municipality, but they want to make sure it does not affect residents' quality of life.

A proposed amendment to the municipality's zoning ordinance has been drafted and is geared toward regulating the exploration or production of oil or natural gas from a shale reservoir or source rock. That amendment was presented Wednesday night.

"We can't stop this activity so we have to learn to live with it and do so in a manner that protects the interests of everyone in this municipality as well as the character of this community," said Joan Kearns, council president. "We have done the best we can possibly do on your behalf."

Interest in extracting natural gas has increased in recent years as companies started tapping the Marcellus shale reserve across the state. Range Resources, with regional headquarters in Canonsburg, has applied to drill into the Marcellus shale to test the area, the first request for such drilling in the municipality.

Murrysville officials have been gathering information on Marcellus shale, a formation of sedimentary rock that contains a large stretch of the mostly untapped natural gas. The municipality appointed an ad hoc committee to advise council on the development of the regulations presented yesterday.

Jim Morrison, chief administrator, said there are three main objectives:

• To provide for the health, safety and welfare of residents and their property;

• To protect the character of the community, facilitating beneficial and compatible land uses; and

• To further Murrysville's interest in the orderly development and use of land in a manner consistent with local demographic and land-use concerns.

Areas addressed include noise, road bonding, environmental concerns and impacts associated with an industrial use, such as truck traffic, lighting and other hazards.

"There is a tremendous impact by the industry on roads," Morrison said. "They generate a huge number of trips. These are very heavy pieces of equipment that they're bringing in. A lot of the equipment needs special permitting through the state and destroys roads."

Among the standards proposed are primary hours of operation of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

"The more hours we give them while they're here, the quicker they'll get out of here," Morrison said.

The proposed amendment will need approval of the planning commission and council. No public input was taken last night. Kearns said a public hearing may be scheduled at a planning commission meeting in October.

Bob Stemler, a member of the Marcellus task force, said he is pleased with the proposed regulations.

"I think it's an excellent start," Stemler said after last night's presentation. "You have to allow drilling; it does allow drilling. I think it does protect the rural environment of Murrysville. I think it protects our safety and environment to a very large degree."

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