Murrysville gas drilling debate continues
Murrysville planning officials and residents Tuesday discussed a proposed ordinance that would add regulations for unconventional natural gas drilling in the municipality as part of a process that allows Murrysville council to move forward with consideration of the proposal.
The proposed ordinance includes additional setbacks from well pads and other requirements not included in Murrysville’s current ordinance that regulates unconventional natural gas drilling.
Council voted in October to declare the proposed ordinance “pending” and to seek input from the local planning commission and Westmoreland County planners. At the meeting Tuesday, planning commission members offered their comments and allowed residents to speak on the proposed ordinance.
The proposal stems from a review of the current drilling ordinance — passed in 2011 — that Murrysville officials began last year following a state Supreme Court ruling that overturned much of a 2012 state law that restricted local governments from regulating drilling.
Loren Kase, council’s liaison to the planning commission, said council will bring the ordinance up for a vote at some point.
Westmoreland County planners couldn’t be reached to comment on the proposal.
The proposal has drawn criticism from industry representatives and local landowners who say it is too restrictive on drilling activity.
“The ordinance has problems both from a preemption perspective as well as under the municipality’s planning code,” said Chris Nestor, a Harrisburg attorney representing some Murrysville landowners.
He declined to elaborate on which aspects of it present problems.
Alyson Holt, who ran for council but lost in the Nov. 3 election, told officials she wanted to see setbacks increased beyond those in the proposal, but “in its entirety” it would be “much more protective of the constitutional rights of all residents than the 2011 ordinance was.”
Planning commission member William Yant Jr. said he thought the nine-member municipal Marcellus task force that convened to help develop Murrysville’s drilling regulations didn’t include any representation from the natural gas industry.
“There was zero representation from industry professionals or academics, engineers, geologists, those types of people, and, given that makeup, I can’t understand that we could achieve a balanced report,” Yant said.
Commission member Michael Caruso defended the lack of leaseholders or industry representatives on that committee.
“I think that input is kind of skewed in a way that doesn’t provide balance,” Caruso said.
The proposed ordinance would require buffers of 250 feet around drilling well pad sites and an additional 750 feet beyond that buffer yard for all “protected structures,” defined as “any occupied structure with walls and a roof within which persons live or customarily work located within the defined setback area.” Homeowners living within the setbacks, however, could sign a waiver to allow a drilling operation closer than the setbacks.
It would remove references to unconventional drilling as a “land development,” which made it subject to municipal subdivision and land-development ordinances, according to members of the municipal Marcellus task force.
It would classify operations that use compressors, motors or engines as part of the operations — or which produce air-contaminant emissions or offensive odors — as conditional-use operations in areas zoned for business use. Conditional-use operations would require approval from municipal officials.
It would include an “Oil and Gas Recovery Overlay District” section. The district — which allows surface drilling in about 40 percent of the municipality — was established in 2011, but the section was not included in the existing ordinance.
Gideon Bradshaw is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-836-6660.