Local Drilling Law Advances

Will allow for possible wells in city limits

Morgantown Dominion Post
7 July 2001
By Joel Cuthbert

WESTOVER — City officials hope to protect the health and safety of residents without closing the door on Marcellus shale drilling, and its potential economic benefits.

At the city council meeting Tuesday, council members approved the first reading of a law establishing regulations on drilling in the city as well as a 1-mile area surrounding the city. The law, which officials have stressed is less restrictive than the city of Morgantown’s outright ban, will become effective following a second and final reading at the next council meeting.

Mayor Dave Johnson said after the meeting that the law will accommodate drilling proposed in and around the city that will not harm the surrounding community.

“There are so many unanswered questions about this, but we’re trying to deal with facts instead of fear,” he explained. “We’re trying not to open ourselves up to a lawsuit, but, at the same time, we’re trying to protect the citizens.”

Johnson added he feels comfortable that the law satisfies arguments in favor of and against Marcellus shale drilling by considering both the environmental and economic impacts.

Unlike a preliminary draft of the law proposed in early June, the current proposal only bans drilling in Residential-1, Residential-2 and Residential-3/Commercial districts in the city. It leaves Industrial Districts in the city open to drilling “with specific authorization by ordinance.”

“By it being allowed in the industrial zone, it would be within the city limits, so that would be revenue for the city,” Johnson explained afterward.

Likewise, drilling within the 1-mile buffer zone surrounding the city would be permitted with “authorization by ordinance.”

Per the law up for adoption, authorization for any and all drilling in or around the city will be granted only after city council investigates the matter to determine “whether the proposed hydraulic fracturing presents a hazard to the health and safety of the citizens of the city.” If the findings support the claim the proposed project will do no harm, a law authorizing the drilling must pass through three readings.

Violation of the city’s law would result in a fine of up to $500 per day, per violation. Johnson also maintains the authority to employ legal counsel to “institute a civil action seeking an injunction to prevent the violation of this ordinance.”

City attorney Bryan Edwards said he felt Westover’s proposed law showed a willingness to consider the facts prior to making any decision, which he previously said would be less open to contention than a pre-emptive blanket denial. A decision made before the facts are presented could be overturned as “arbitrary and capricious” if challenged by a prospective driller, he explained in June, taking the decision out of officials’ hands entirely.

“The way the ordinance is written, I believe it’s legal, in the fact that anyone who wishes to do so can come in here and present their evidence,” he said following the meeting Tuesday. “It’s not an absolute prohibition against it, so I think it would be legally upheld in court.”

A public comment session will be held prior to the next council meeting, and second reading of the law, at 6 p.m. July 18.