Commission Seeks Guidance on City Law

Mon County hopes to form stance on Marcellus regulation

Morgantown Dominion Post
23 June 2011
By Tracy Eddy

The Monongalia County Commission is asking the county’s assistant prosecutor for his legal opinion on what authority the county has — if any — to regulate Marcellus shale drilling in Mon County.

The commission will also ask Assistant Prosecutor Phil Magro for his opinion on what the county’s stance should be on Morgantown’s new law, which bans horizontal drilling and fracturing — or fracking — within the city limits and up to a mile beyond them. Council passed the law at its Tuesday meeting.

During its Wednesday meeting, the commission voted unanimously to send a letter to Magro, outlining its questions, which include how the city’s law would affect the zoning laws in the West Run area.

Commission President Asel Kennedy asked the two other commissioners to entertain a motion for the County Commission to seek an injunction against the city’s law on behalf of the county residents who live in Morgantown’s 1-mile buffer.

“I think we need to stop this until the court system can determine whether or not this is valid,” he said.

The motion was never made. Kennedy is the commission president and can’t make motions himself.

Commissioner Bill Bartolo said it would be premature for the county to take legal action at this point — the commission should evaluate Magro’s opinions first.

Commissioner Eldon Callen is an attorney, but said he would not give his legal opinion as a commissioner. He agreed with Bartolo that the county should consult with Magro.

Kennedy said he considers the city’s law a taking of land use. There are people in the 1-mile buffer zone who won’t get paid for their mineral rights because of the city’s law, he said. The people in the buffer don’t have the ability to vote in the city, he said, so the county should take action for them.

Bartolo questioned the city’s 1-mile buffer zone and its possible impact on the West Run zoning laws — does the city have the authority to supersede those zoning laws?

He also wondered if the county could come up with its own law on Marcellus shale drilling. “The County Commission doesn’t typically have any authority unless the state gives it to us,” he said.

Bartolo would also like to know Magro’s legal opinion on what the County Commission’s role should be in the issue.

Callen said the city rushed into approving its law. Morgantown should have notified everyone within one mile of
the city limits who would be affected by the law.

“They don’t know who’s covered and who isn’t covered,” he said.

Richard Cohen, of Morgantown, asked the commission to support the City Council in requiring drillers to hold off on their Marcellus shale operations until more information about the industry and its possible effects is available.

He also asked commissioners to create a committee that could look into the hazards the operations could create.