Proposed Allegheny Township drilling rules panned
Allegheny Township officials believe a proposed ordinance regulating natural gas drilling is a solid first step, but some residents wish it would go further.
The ordinance, which is aimed primarily at the more extensive Marcellus shale drilling, addresses issues including noise, lighting, fencing, road maintenance, traffic and providing information to the township and neighbors.
Residents said there is one glaring concern the proposal does not address: restricting Marcellus wells from R-1 — single-family residential areas.
Others requested supervisors prohibit drilling from the town center district.
“I’m quite frankly amazed you would allow drilling in R-1 and some commercial zones,” said resident John Framel, a former supervisor who worked for 30 years in the oil and gas industry.
Resident Marce Urbanski said if she can’t operate a business from her home or have a leaking sewage system, she didn’t understand how a company could drill for profit and use a pond containing toxic chemicals in the same zone.
Attorney Lee Demosky, who helped draft the ordinance with Township Manager Greg Primm, said he believes restricting the zones in which a company can drill could open up the township to lawsuits.
He said existing court decisions set conflicting precedents on what limits municipalities can set.
Demosky said many of the issues residents brought up during Monday’s public hearing should be addressed at the state level by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Those issues included the prevention, reporting and cleanup of leaks from the hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — process; water and air pollution; capping containment ponds; and the proximity of wells to buildings, roads and waterways.
Residents scoffed at a $600 penalty called for in the ordinance, saying it is too small to affect large drilling companies.
Demosky said that is the largest fee that realistically can be assessed by a district judge. He said the township also can file an injunction before a Westmoreland County Court judge to temporarily shut down a well until it comes into compliance.
Sev Scaglia said he felt sections of the ordinance dealing with dust control, posting signs about possible dangers and noise prevention were too vague. Demosky said the township’s engineer might be able to suggest ways to beef up those sections.
He noted some of those issues could be addressed by existing township ordinances.
Several residents said they felt the ordinance was a good start, but requested some improvements before it is approved.
“I think this draft was well-written,” resident Mable Mazza said. “But there are still some issues that need to be addressed.”
Supervisors Chairwoman Kathy Starr said she would prefer to have an ordinance in place to install some protections for residents, then add provisions later on.
Primm said the ordinance has been in the planning stages already for several months. Supervisors did not indicate when they might vote on it.
Noting that only a few other local communities are considering new regulations for Marcellus drilling, Starr said she thinks Allegheny Township is being proactive: “We are ahead of the curve.”