Murrysville's new gas drilling ordinance labeled compromise



Murrysville council members all agree that the municipality’s new gas drilling ordinance is an improvement, but they also agree it’s a compromise between the constitutional rights of landowners to use their property and the rights of everyone to clean air and water and health and safety.

The new ordinance, approved May 3, provides greater protection for residents living near drilling operations. It requires a 750-foot setback from the edge of the well pad to a protected structure such as a house, barn or any habitable building. The state-required setback is 500 feet from the bore hole. By measuring from the well pad instead of the bore hole, Murrysville is effectively increasing the setback distance, which is a victory for those demanding greater protection from the effects of drilling.

But drilling opponents were not pleased with the proposed setback and made their feelings known to council before the vote.

“Tonight’s vote will be called a compromise. It’s not. It is a concession to the gas industry,” resident Alyson Holt told council. “ … In the end, you are still permitting an industrial activity in rural residential zones.”

When a draft of the ordinance was first released in the fall, the proposed setback was 1,000 feet. As public hearings were held, drilling operators and lease holders argued that the 1,000-foot setback unfairly restricted the number of potential drilling sites, making the ordinance a target to be legally challenged as exclusionary.

A divided council continued to struggle this spring to agree on a final setback distance, considering an 800-foot setback and a 750-foot setback.

 

“When we started this seven years ago, I said this would be the most difficult land use issue we would ever face,” chief administrator Jim Morrison told council. “It requires compromises on both sides. We have made a concerted effort to listen and learn in a detailed and fair manner. What we have is a balanced approach to a complex land use issue.”

Councilman Joshua Lorenz said, “It comes down to rights. We have done our best to accommodate competing rights. … it is a significant improvement over what is on the books.”

The vote to approve the ordinance was 6-1, with Councilman John Perry opposed.

“My concern is that it doesn’t go far enough,” he said. “After 30 years as an environmental consultant, I know you have to look at what-ifs and be protective of those worst case scenarios. You have to be more protective of human life.” 

In action related to the new ordinance, council voted unanimously to repost and readvertise pending revisions to the municipal subdivision and land development ordinance.

Tim Means, freelance writer: www.suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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