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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hey Pennsylvania Communities--Let's Ban All Marcellus Shale Activities In Our Towns!


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Ban on Murrysville Marcellus shale drilling explored
by Daveen Rae KurutzMurrysville Star
December 28th, 2010
A citizen's group wants Murrysville leaders to consider placing a ban on Marcellus shale natural gas drilling.

The Murrysville Marcellus Community Group, a 35-member group of residents concerned about potential Marcellus shale drilling in the municipality, met Monday with Doug Shields, a Pittsburgh councilman, and attorney [sic] Ben Price.

Pittsburgh City Council last month approved a ban on Marcellus shale natural gas drilling within city limits. The city was the first in Pennsylvania to pass a ban on the drilling, which allows oil and gas companies to tap into pockets of gas.

Group organizers said they believe a full ban is the way to protect the community from drillers.

"We don't think that any (set of restrictions) is going to hold up at all," said Wanda Guthrie, a convener with the community group. "No matter what kind of ordinance is done, it's not clear anything can hold up."

Murrysville Council is reviewing a proposed ordinance that would restrict where companies could drill into the Marcellus shale.

About 40 percent of the municipality would be considered drillable land under the proposal.

In July, council voted 5-0 to support moves by local representatives to institute a statewide moratorium on shale drilling. However, lawmakers have not moved forward on any such move.

Any ban would have to be statewide, said council President Joan Kearns said.

"We can't pass a municipalitywide ban," Kearns said. "We've tried to work within the guidelines of what the state Supreme Court and the state Oil and Gas Act allows. This is a different animal than we have dealt with in the past."

But Price, an attorney with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, said communities have the right to ban Marcellus shale drilling. He said the rights of people supersede regulations and laws that govern land use. His group believes that drilling can intrude on the rights of neighbors and members of the community near where drilling occurs.

Various state laws dictate what municipalities can do to restrict drilling, said George Asimos, a partner with Harrisburg-based law firm Saul Ewing. Asimos, who specializes in zoning law, said municipalities have to allow drilling but can restrict where and when it is done.

"There's going to be differences from township to township, but there's also a lot of legal requirements that will apply to all townships," Asimos said, referring to state Department of Environmental Protection regulations. "(Municipal leaders) have to be real sure these regulations are going to pass muster in the courts."

That's what Guthrie and her group are afraid of. The group plans to address council during the final public hearing on the drilling ordinance on Jan. 19 to plead for a ban.

"You can't be even-handed with the industry and the citizens of Murrysville when it's their safety and well-being that's being questioned," Guthrie said, questioning if the proposal would withstand a court challenge. "We need to explore this. I just don't think we have many teeth."

Council will continue to discuss the proposal at its Jan. 5 meeting.

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