In the News

Twp. mulls Marcellus ordinance

E. Wheatfield trying to protect residents

February 28, 2011
Bernie Hornick for the Tribune Democrat

ARMAGH — East Wheatfield Township supervisors don’t want their constituents to get the short end of the stick once Marcellus drilling starts in earnest.

As soon as today’s meeting, they might ask Solicitor Tim Burns to draft a local ordinance that may be one-of-a-kind for Pennsylvania.

The ordinance –­ among other provisions – would require drillers to give written notice to everyone in the area.

Burns said the notice would say something like, “We’re going to start drilling. You might want to get your water checked.”

A chemical analysis of the water could serve as a baseline for comparison down the road, should the water become contaminated with methane gas or fracking chemicals. That could offer residents recourse against drillers should wells become contaminated.

Kathryn Klaber, president of the industry-backed Marcellus Shale Coalition in Washington County, said she couldn’t comment on the proposal until draft language was crafted.

While taking no position on mandatory notices, she encourages residents to have well water tested ahead of any Marcellus drilling.

“It is critical,” she said Friday.

Klaber hinted that such tests could exonerate natural gas companies: A Center for Rural Pennsylvania study found that upwards of 40 percent of water wells are contaminated before any gas drilling occurs.

Klaber also lamented that Pennsylvania, she believes, is the only state that doesn’t have private water well standards.

She said such rules target where wells are sited and how they are constructed, including casing re- quirements.

Burns said localities are bound in what they can and can’t force drillers to do.

“The state has the ultimate authority to regulate natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania, so we can’t say, no, you can’t come in,” Burns said last week. “But we can moderately regulate it.”

As environmental concerns grow along with the burgeoning industry, he said, the matter is becoming a big issue with municipalities such as East Wheatfield.

“We’re one of the least regulated states on this natural gas drilling in the country,” the solicitor said.

“I would hope, if not the township, then the state would hold the drilling companies accountable if there is any environmental impact.”

Locals step in

Any East Wheatfield law likely will mandate that the noise doesn’t become too loud, that companies have plans in case of an accident and the like.

“It allows them to drill but at the same time protects the people,” Burns said.

A state organization of townships has devised a model ordinance to deal with oil and gas drillers.

The model ordinance, among other things:

• Requests that drillers attend a pre-application conference with township staff. This meeting is voluntary.

• Tells drillers to file a permit application with the locality and pay a fee.

• Requires companies to provide a narrative of the project and display maps showing the drilling site and routes for delivery of equipment and the like.

• Establishes rig setback distances.

• Requires the companies to offer a training course to emergency responders.

Anyone who wants to get a head start on drilling headed their way ­– though without a “test well water” advisory – can log on to the state Department of Environmental Protection’s website, dep.state.pa.us.

By signing up for a free subscription under the keyword “enotice,” residents will be notified whenever gas permit applications are filed in their county.

Tonight’s East Wheatfield Township meeting begins at 6:30 at the township building on Route 56.

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