St. Marys Planning Commission member Matt Quesenberry explained to members of the planning commission and city council earlier this week that the city's ability to limit oil and gas drilling in certain sections of the city is limited by the regulations that currently exist under the state's Oil and Gas Act.
City Zoning Officer Matt Pfeufer added that the Pennsylvania General Assembly has delegated the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to oversee the development of oil and gas wells throughout the state and that DEP regulates oil and gas well development through the Oil and Gas Act of 1984.
Pfeufer indicated that communities are limited specifically by Section 601.602 of the Act, which relates to local ordinances.
This section states: "except with respect to ordinances adopted pursuant to the act of July 31, 1968 (P.L. 805, No. 247), known as the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, and the act of October 4, 1978 (P.L. 851, No. 166), known as the Flood Plain Management Act, all local ordinances and enactments purporting to regulate oil and gas well operations regulated by this act are hereby superseded. No ordinances or enactments adopted pursuant to the aforementioned acts shall contain provisions which impose conditions, requirements or limitations on the same features of oil and gas well operations regulated by this act or that accomplish the same purposes as set forth in this act. The Commonwealth, by this enactment, hereby preempts and supersedes the regulation of oil and gas wells as herein defined."
Pfeufer explained that this section expressly states that local municipalities cannot regulate the same features of oil and gas wells that are already included in the Act.
"Through this, a municipality cannot impose regulations on oil and gas well development if the Oil and Gas Act already contains the same regulations. Some regulations that are in the oil and gas act are permits for wells, local municipal notification, well registration, well location setbacks from buildings, streams and water supplies, well site restoration, well casing requirements, plugging requirements, bonding and, of course, periodic inspections," Pfeufer said.
Because of this restriction, Pfeufer noted that he and his fellow committee members, City Solicitor Mark Jacob, City Councilman Dan Hepner, and Quesenberry, had a difficult time coming up with proposals for ways that the city could possibly limit drilling within certain zones of the city.
"This committee actually had a hard time coming up with some limits or regulations that we felt would be legal under the oil and gas act," Pfeufer said.
In particular, Pfeufer discussed the importance of the statement within the Act that no local ordinance or enactment may impose conditions that accomplish the same purposes as set forth in the Act.
"Of course, the Oil and Gas Act has expressly stated purposes in Section 601.102, which I guess, I won't read them all, but the paraphrase would be to permit the optimal development of the oil and gas resources of Pennsylvania consistent with the protection of health, safety, environment and property of the citizens of the Commonwealth; protect the safety of personnel and facilities employed in the exploration, development, storage and production of natural gas or oil or the mining of coal; to protect the safety and property rights of persons residing in areas where such exploration, development, storage or production occurs; and to protect the natural resources, environmental rights and values secured by the Pennsylvania Constitution," Pfeufer said.
Because of the areas encompassed within these stated purposes, Pfeufer noted that it was particularly challenging for the committee to come up with limitations that could be imposed for other reasons.