At the request of city councilman Dick Dornisch, members of the St. Marys City Council once again discussed looking into imposing restrictions on Marcellus gas drilling near residential areas and water supplies within the city at their recent meeting.
He proposed that the city have their solicitor look at ordinances that have already been successfully passed throughout the state, particularly around the Pittsburgh area, to see what kind of ordinance the city could put together to keep Marcellus drilling from occurring near residential areas and from possibly contaminating the city's water supplies. Council members approved Dornisch's motion and also approved sending the matter to the city's Planning Commission.
"I think, as people involved in local government, we have a huge onus upon us this time to look after those things that make St. Marys a good place to live, and I think that like many other communities, we ought to be doing something now while we have the time," Dornisch said.
Dornisch remarked that he did not want a lengthy ordinance, but instead hoped to keep it short and simple. He also indicated that periodic testing should be conducted on the city's water supply.
Councilman Dan Hepner agreed that some selective ordinances should be put in place, though he explained that the council cannot simply ban all drilling within the city's limits.
"Under the Pennsylvania Natural Gas Act, you cannot simply put in ordinances for that sole purpose. There was a (Pa.) House Bill that [was up for vote recently], House Bill 2213, that would allow certain ordinances that could do exactly what you said, [prohibit drilling] so many feet from a playground, so many feet from a church. I think those you could do, but a blanket ordinance, to the best of my knowledge, has not been upheld yet. It has been tried, but has never been upheld when challenged," Hepner said.
Mark Jacob, city solicitor, explained that the bill referenced by Hepner specifically addresses preemption of municipalities against passing ordinances prohibiting drilling.
"Basically what it was saying was that the state has preempted that area of the law. In other words, you can't make your own ordinances regarding how you drill and what you can use when you're drilling and whatever, but it specifically stated that you could use zoning laws and ordinances like that," Jacob said.
A number of area residents also addressed council on the matter, particularly to express opposition to council's recent approval of a subdivision request from C/G Electrodes LLC so that the company could potentially pursue Marcellus drilling in those locations in the future. One of the subdivided parcels of land is near Kaulmont Park and residents of the Hall Avenue area complained about the close proximity such a well would have to their homes.
For more information of this story, see the November 17th edition of The Daily Press.