Murrysville council delays vote on gas drilling ordinance

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Urged by residents and some council members not to go forward, Murrysville council tabled a decision on an ordinance that would allow the creation of bid specifications for subsurface gas drilling deep under Murrysville Community Park.

In January, the municipality received an offer from Huntley and Huntley, a Monroeville-based gas drilling company, to lease the subsurface gas and oil rights for the park. Council then instructed the solicitor to draw up an ordinance permitting the creation of bid specifications. Such an ordinance would allow the residents to put the question of drilling as a referendum on the ballot in November, without committing to drilling now.

Confusion over the intention of the ordinance and the changing status of state laws regulating gas and oil extraction appears to have brought the plan to a halt.

“We have tried to make it clear what the action before council is,” chief administrator Jim Morrison said. “First it is to notify Huntley and Huntley that we reject their offer to drill under the park. Second it is to allow the staff to develop the bid specifications. By doing it this way, we can write in protections and standards beyond Act 13 [the state law].”

However, after two months of trying to clarify the issues for the public, council was not ready to take action.

Linda Marts of Murrysville is a member of the Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Murrysville, a local citizens group that had agreed to head up the effort to gather names for the referendum petition. She urged council Wednesday night not to approve the ordinance. “Vote no tonight,” she told council. “We were in favor of this to begin with, but in our meetings we are getting more confused.”

Councilman David Perry echoed Ms. Marts’ position. “Originally, I advocated strongly for the referendum. But it is going to be a very tough road. I’ve changed my position. I am against it,” he said. Mr. Perry, who is a geologist, said he has spent hours trying to clarify the issue on a Facebook page devoted to the Murrysville fracking discussion, but to no avail. “No matter how we work it, it will still be confusing.”

Councilman Jeffery Kepler agreed. “Having attended several meetings, I am surprised about the massive amount of confusion. The group we thought would take up the reins is now telling us not to do it.”

Council president Joan Kearns pointed out that the ordinance provided only for the creation of bid specification and set no timetable for action.

In the end, the only thing that achieved consensus was not to do anything.

Tim Means, freelance writer: First Published April 16, 2014 11:07 PM

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