Drilling industry asks Shale Commission for “clarity and consistency” in local regulations

    The head of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Coalition called for uniform local drilling standards, during a presentation to Governor Corbett’s advisory committee today.

    Katheryn Klaber’s request to Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Commission was “clarity and consistency” in local laws governing natural gas drilling. She pointed out the gas deposit stretches through 37 Pennsylvania counties and 1,491 municipalities. “If you were going to take a drive across Pennsylvania, and you needed to get a new license in each community you went through, that’s really the conditions in which the industry is operating,” she said.

    Klaber complained a handful of municipalities – most notably Pittsburgh — have passed regulations banning drilling or hydraulic fracturing within their boundaries, and argued those ordinances violate state law. She said other municipalities have accomplished the same result, through zoning restrictions targeting drilling, “including up to 1,500 feet from a resident, 2,500 feet – it goes on and on. All sorts of different setbacks from all types of structures,” she explained. “And what you really get in those types of situations, I guess it would be an effective ban. Because by the time you do that many setbacks, there isn’t any other area within that municipality to place the industry’s activities.”

    Klaber got her figures from a Coalition study of drilling regulations in 66 southwestern Pennsylvania municipalities. The reports’ details haven’t been made public. (I’ve asked the Coalition for a list of the municipalities with these guidelines. Klaber told a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter the group isn’t ready to release them yet.)

    She said some townships have gone as far as banning nighttime noise increases over 5 decibels, in an attempt to keep rigs away. “If this were applied uniformly, those levels would be violated by a residential central air conditioning units, or quite literally, in some areas, the crickets,” she argued. “This is an area that can be dealt with, if there are reasonable and predictable noise standards. But when normal, unamplified conversations are between 60 and 70 decibels, it’s a little hard to operate. And it’s not appropriate for it to be on one single industry.”

    Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati’s local impact fee attempts to address Klaber’s concerns, by creating a model ordinance for municipalities, and barring local governments that pass stricter laws from receiving money from its $10,000- a-well levy.

    For the most part, members of Corbett’s commission were sympathetic to Klabers’ concerns. Public Utility Commission Chair Robert Powelson compared Pittsburgh’s drilling ban to a “Model UN ordinance.” David Sanko, the executive director of the Pennsylvania State Township Supervisors Association, agreed “the industry should not be singled out differently,” when it comes to zoning. “It should be treated fairly, and it should have a level playing field,” he added, before arguing local drilling bans are “in violation of state law.”

    At a press conference after the meeting, however, Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley shied away from fully weighing in on whether municipalities have the right to keep drilling out of their borders, through direct or indirect bans. “I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the sum of the claims that were put forward about constitutional violations,” he said. “Any time the constitution is violated I’m going to be concerned. But that’s something we’re going to take a look at in greater depth, to understand the specific areas of where those claims have arisen.” The commission will hear from local government officials at next month’s meeting. Its final report is due in July.

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