Preparing for what seems to be the eminent arrival of natural gas drilling companies to Schuylkill County, the West Penn Township Board of Supervisors is taking actions to ensure some sort of control over the land and protection for its residents.
The Marcellus Shale legislation Act 13 of 2012, which was signed by Governor Tom Corbett in February has many implications, but the one concerning municipalities most are the issues related to control over natural gas operations.
Foremost, municipalities have to allow for what the act calls reasonable development of oil and gas resources. This allows companies to conduct well and pipeline location assessment operations and conduct operations more stringent to the environment than that of other industrial uses of the land.
"One way you can still regulate is through local zoning ordinance," Solicitor Gretchen Sterns addressed to the board at Monday evening's meeting at the municipal building.
Through the board's zoning function, Sterns said, it will have "modest control and oversight." For example, townships can regulate where a well site can be placed within a residential district.
The board decided the best starting point for taking action is contacting the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, which Sterns said was opposed to Corbett signing the bill. "Considering how specific the act is about what you can and cannot regulate on zoning," Sterns said, "I would not be surprised if PSATS in short-order comes out with an ordinance based on those sections." This would eliminate the step of townships individually having to go to the state to review ordinances.
"We have to walk a very fine line," Sterns said. "We want to be as proactive as possible. We want to protect our residents as much as possible. On the other hand, we can't go over the tipping point and have the fear of exposing the township to liability and attorneys' fees and costs."
If PSATS drafts an ordinance it recommends to townships, the board will use it, but if one is not drafted by May, Sterns said the board will have to write the ordinance itself to ensure the township has some kind of protection.
Next board of supervisors meeting is on Monday, May 7 at 7 p.m. in the municipal building.