Drilling Ban!

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Marcellus Shale drilling banned in some areas of South Fayette
Thursday, November 18, 2010

After hearing for months about health and environmental concerns surrounding Marcellus Shale drilling, South Fayette commissioners were unanimous in deciding how to address the issue.

They received an ovation Monday night following their 5-0 vote to ban natural gas drilling in residential and conservation areas, including neighborhoods, farms and public parks.

A majority of the 200 people in the middle school auditorium stood and applauded.

Keith McDonough, a member of the Friends of South Fayette group, thanked the commissioners for responding to citizens' calls to keep drilling away from homes.

"I can't tell you how happy I am right now and how many people worked so hard to make this happen," he said after the meeting.

Some property owners were disappointed with the township's decision to limit Marcellus Shale development to industrial and commercial zones.

"The board reacted to the fears and emotions of the many people present," landowner John Alan Kosky said. "There are many farms located in residential areas where drilling can occur."

The Allegheny County planning office reviewed the ordinance and said it was well-drafted and would serve as a model for other communities, township attorney Jonathan Kamin said.

"I want to compliment the board on providing an ordinance that looks like it's going to be a leader in the county," he said.

The ordinance says wells must be at least 2,500 feet from schools and 1,000 to 1,500 feet from homes.

At the request of the county, the township will analyze the figures to ensure that wells would be able to meet setback requirements, Mr. Kamin said.

Commissioner Deron Gabriel said after the meeting that the vote "represented a great victory for the vast majority of South Fayette residents and children. It will serve to protect the health, safety and welfare of all of our residents and children, and will further the interests of township in terms of our growing tax base."

He said the action will protect the investment "our community has made in our schools and for the safety of all of the children who attend our schools. It is abundantly clear that our residents stood up through this process and their voices were heard to save South Fayette."

The ordinance prohibits Marcellus Shale surface development in all residential zones -- from rural farmlands to suburban neighborhoods.

The ban also covers conservation areas -- the South Fayette School District campus, township parks, cemeteries, Hickory Heights Golf Course and certain preservation lands.

Township engineer Dave Gardner estimated that 75 percent to 80 percent of the approximately 13,000-acre township falls within a residential or conservation zone.

South Fayette does not have an agricultural zone, and most farmlands have been zoned rural-residential or privately deeded to an agricultural preservation society, Mr. Gardner said.

The gas and oil ordinance, which revises the zoning code, allows well construction, hydraulic fracturing, fluid storage, pipelines and other drilling activities and equipment as a conditional use in commercial, industrial, business and planned economic development zones.

The ordinance says natural gas compressor stations and processing plants may be located only in commercial and industrial zones.

The township is in the process of developing a separate set of regulations for those facilities.

The township also is preparing an overlay plan for commissioners to consider in January. It would pinpoint specific areas in all zoning districts where drilling would be suitable.

Some property owners who want to drill said the overlay concept could allow Marcellus development on certain farms and other large parcels where drilling activities would be less likely to disturb neighbors.

"Myself and my fellow landowners," Mr. Kosky said, "are looking forward to a resolution that would restore harmony amongst all the residents of this great community."

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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