EARTHWORKS

Municipal officials oppose loss of local drilling rules

Pittsburgh Times-Tribune | Laura Legere

November 15, 2011
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Municipal officials from 12 Pennsylvania counties sent a letter to state legislators Monday asking them to cut provisions from pending House and Senate Marcellus Shale bills that would limit or remove local zoning control over oil and gas drilling.

The 46 officials, including five supervisors from Exeter Twp. in Luzerne County, argue that the bills unfairly exempt oil and gas operations from local land use regulations or standardize limits on local control.

"Local governments must be able to ensure protections through ordinances that reflect specific concerns," the officials wrote. "We oppose any legislation and reject all attempts to take away municipal zoning rights, to weaken or standardize a municipality's ability to protect itself, or to punish communities that choose to exercise their rights."

A bill that would make the state attorney general's office the initial referee in disputes involving municipal drilling ordinances was approved 17-9 Monday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Senate is expected to start floor debate on the bill today.

Gov. Tom Corbett supports efforts to exempt gas drilling from local land use control, but Republican legislators have not uniformly embraced the idea.

State Senate leaders have said that strict pre-emption language in the House bill is unlikely to be adopted in their chamber.

Mr. Corbett wrote Friday to all members of the General Assembly that local gas drilling ordinances threaten jobs and investment in the state.

"The enactment of a reasonable, consistent and uniform set of rules across the commonwealth as it relates to oil and gas drilling boils down to advancing our number one shared focus ... jobs," he wrote.

Also Monday, six state organizations of municipal officials, including the state Association of Township Supervisors and the state Association of Boroughs, sent a letter to members of the House more narrowly criticizing their bill for "sweeping and unprecedented preemption language" that would prohibit "virtually any local regulatory interaction with the industry."

Unlike the officials who signed the broader letter to both chambers on Monday, the associations support an "appropriate level of uniformity" through "some common set of zoning standards."

State law already exempts most aspects of oil and gas drilling from local control, but the state Supreme Court has found that municipalities can regulate aspects of the operations that fall under traditional land use ordinances, like road impacts, noise limits and the location of wells.

Benton, Greenfield, Newton and Roaring Brook townships in Lackawanna County have either attempted to apply their zoning ordinances to natural gas drilling or amended ordinances to prepare for possible impacts.

In a conference call Monday, signatories to the General Assembly letter and environmental groups said the pre-emption clauses in the bills amount to a "power grab" by the state.

"The proposed legislation is, in effect, stating that the development of natural gas is so paramount that industry should have the option to pursue it anywhere at any time," Earthworks Marcellus region representative Nadia Steinzor said, "even if it's at the expense of the other uses of the land and priorities such as quality of life and public health and what communities want."

Contact the writer: llegere@timesshamrock.com

Tagged with: zoning, regulation, pennsylvania, local government, hydraulic fracturing, drilling

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