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City changing drilling ordinance to comply with state law

February 23, 2012

Zoning Officer Matt Pfeufer provided information about the state's new oil and gas drilling impact fee ordinance to St. Marys City Council on Monday evening. Photo by Amy Cherry.

Members of St. Marys City Council were informed a new state regulation could supersede an oil and gas ordinance the city has been working on for over a year.
Zoning Officer Matt Pfeufer approached the council during Monday evening's meeting looking for direction in determining if the city's new ordinance is going to be in compliance with the state regulations. If changes are to be made, Pfeufer must instruct the city's planning commission to make the necessary revisions.
Pfeufer explained House Bill 1950, signed into law by the governor, enacts a blanket provision restricting local regulations of drilling. He noted that municipalities have 120 days to change their ordinance in order to be eligible for funding. Municipalities would receive funding for any wells constructed within their boundaries.
A major catalyst of the new legislation pertains to the limitations that municipalities cannot impose stricter regulations than the state.
"It seems that we don't have a choice in the matter," said Councilman Dan Hepner said. "Everything we did last year was thrown out the window."
City Solicitor Tom Wagner said he briefly reviewed the 174-page law. He explained that there is no provision in the new law for the review of any municipal regulations; therefore, a municipality would adopt any regulations it believes are in compliance with the statute and then allow them to be tested by some form of litigation.
Wagner stated the Elk County Commissioners are expected to sign an ordinance regarding the impact fees.
"I think most of these situations are going to be black-and-white. I reviewed regulations and most deal with operational issues, but there are some that deal with spacing and setbacks. To that extent, if the state law is specific about those things we cannot pass regulations that are more stringent," Wagner said. "We may be able to limit oil and gas development in certain zoning districts in the city if we have a rational base to do that, which is something I will look into."
Wagner requested Pfeufer forward him a copy of the city's oil and gas ordinance as well as a comparison showing the difference between the city's and state's regulations.
"My major concern is the same as it was one and a half to two years ago in that we have an ironclad attempt to defend our water sources," said Councilman Dick Dornisch.

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