Some Pa. counties looking to zoning to provide controls over gas drilling

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale-gas epoch still in its infancy, some experts doubt we have seen one-tenth of what is yet to come and recommend that municipalities brace themselves for rapid change.

“People who are not in the Marcellus areas have no clue how big this is going to be,” said Kurt Hausammann Jr., planning director for Lycoming County. “This has the possibility to change our whole way of life.

“We have a large amount of state land in our county, and probably a third to a half of that is leased,” he said. “And then probably about three-fourths of the private land is leased.”

Zoning regulations

Despite potential impacts from gas exploration on local populations, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last year ruled that local governments may not enact specific ordinances targeting gas-drilling operations.

However, there still may be some avenues to assert some influence, and Hausammann identifies local zoning regulations as the best tools for the job.

The primary limit on drilling is based on population density. Drilling is prohibited in two specific districts: “rural centers,” or villages occupying less than a total of 50 acres, and “neighborhoods,” which could be parcels such as trailer parks occupying as little as 10 acres.

“A district like that would be ruined if you put a 5-acre pad in there,” Hausammann said.

Within these districts, the noise regulations in the zoning ordinance also apply.

While operations are exempt from noise ordinances during the drilling or fracking phases, any permanent facilities such as processing stations or compression stations must be enclosed in a building so that they are quiet, he said.

Hausammann said that the ordinance also outlined a set of best-management practices (BMPs) that do not carry the force of law, but he said that so far, gas companies have been very willing to comply with the suggestions contained within the ordinance.

Best management practices

These BMPs include pad sites being set back as far as possible from ridge lines, so that they are not clearly visible from valley floors once the drilling rigs have been removed.

Derricks also should be set back from public trails and roadways by a distance at least three times the height of the derrick, so that in the event one fell over, it would not block any public right-of-way.

The ordinance also recommends clearing no more native vegetation and trees than necessary. Hausammann said that gas companies have been following this recommendation and that many pads are not visible from a ground approach because the tree line runs right up the edge of the 5-acre pad.

Other BMPs include co-location of pipelines along the same right-of-way, and shrinking the easements for rights-of-way to 30 feet from 50 feet after the production phase is complete.

He said that gas companies have been very cooperative both in helping develop language for the ordinance and in following its recommendations.

Marcellus shale webinars

— Aug. 19: 1 p.m. “Local Natural Gas Task Force Initiatives”; Presenters: Mark Smith, Bradford County; Pam Tokar-Ickes, Somerset County; and Paul Heimel, Potter County.

— Sept. 16: 1 p.m. “Natural Gas Experiences of Marcellus Residents: Preliminary Results from the Community Satisfaction Survey”; Presenter: Kathy Brasier, Penn State.

Previous webinars, which covered topics such as water use and quality, gas-leasing considerations for landowners and implications for local communities, can be viewed at http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/webinars.

For more information, contact Joann Kowalski, extension educator in Susquehanna County, at 570-278-1158 or by e-mail at jmk20@psu.edu.

Leave a Comment

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.

eNewsletter

Get our Top Stories in Your Inbox

Recent News