Lycoming Countyâ€™s Gas Drilling Zoning Ordinance Commissioners briefly delay the vote, Whatâ€™s next?
Thanks to those of you who responded to last weekâ€™s request by RDA to contact the Lycoming County Commissioners and request that they postpone their vote on the new gas drilling zoning ordinance.Â The Commissioners responded by moving the vote back one week, from Feb 17th to the 24th.
Although we appreciate the Commissionersâ€™ response, we do not believe a 7-day delay serves a valid purpose.
Rather, we request the vote be postponed for the time it takes the Planning Commission to:
- Review all of the spoken and written comments submitted at the hearing
- Revisit the amendments in light of those comments
- Revise the amendments in accordance with the comments and explain the reasons behind any case where revisions are not made
The County should then publish the revised amendments, solicit additional comments, and conduct a public hearing.
If the Commissioners intend to approve the amendments on February 24, they should incorporate a procedural framework and a timeline for amending the Ordinance. The procedural framework should incorporate the three steps above and a public hearing should be scheduled within 4 months.
Thus far, the public has been denied an opportunity for meaningful participation in the amendment process.Â Prior to publishing the draft amendments for public comment, the Commission consulted regularly with the County Gas Task Force and industry representatives, yet solicited no advice from the public or any environmental organizations. Nor did the Commission conduct any public meetings that would have enabled citizens to share their suggestions and concerns before a formal hearing. Sadly, the draft amendments reflect this lack of public participation. While they are undoubtedly an improvement over the County’s current zoning ordinance, they contain numerous gaps and flaws.
The County has spent more than two years in developing the amendments. In the meantime, there have been tens of Marcellus wells drilledÂ (and associated infrastructure installed) in the seventeen municipalities covered by County zoning. Several have been the scenes of spills, leaks, and other accidents. Gas development in the Marcellus Shale is risky business, and stringent, comprehensive and lawful zoning controls are sorely needed. There would be little harm in the Commissioners postponing a vote on the amendments for a few more months in order to make specific, much-needed improvements. Many of these have already been identified, as follows:
Proposed oil & gas amendments to Lycoming County Zoning Ordinance
- A 200-foot setback is minimal. The Ordinance should provide for the requirement of a deeper setback where the pre-existing use warrants greater protection.
- Source water protection measures for all public and community water systems are most critical for public heath safeguards and need to be developed in collaboration with the public water system suppliers.
- Air quality impact studies on public health from volatile organics and fumes from gas processing facilities should be required and include a professional Air Quality Baseline Assessment based upon air dispersion modeling which takes into account cumulative effects from other facilities, followed by an Air Quality Monitoring Plan.
- Zoning Permits should be required when pipelines cross public facilities such as water supply reservoirs, watershed lands, water mains, sewer lines, storm water drainage and retention facilities, school sites, and public parks.
- Occupancy Permits should be required before beginning operational use of a facility.
- Any request to locate a gas-processing facility or compressor station within 4,000 feet of a school must include a determination of any possible adverse health effects on the students and staff.
- Specification maps should include alignment of all pipeline(s), and all transportation routes for: equipment, stone, chemicals, water, wastewater and related materials used for oil and gas development.
- The applicant should provide an in-depth Restoration Plan for the entire site and all related disturbed areas.
- A Business Solicitation Permit should be required for seismic testing on private property.
- The strongest legal controls are essential for regulation of gas wells and all forms of wastewater handling and storage, especially in floodplains (not just the floodway).
- Setback distances need to be measured from the edge of the well pad and NOT from the well bore.
- Zoning should regulate water surface use.
- Additional wells on pre-existing well pads can generate substantial impacts and a Zoning Permit may be needed for these.
Quigley Expresses Concern Over Rescinded Regulation
John Quigley, who was relieved of his position as Secretary of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) by incoming governor Tom Corbett, wrote the following article on February 18th.
Protection for State Parks and State Forests
As many as 12,000 natural gas wells could be drilled in Pennsylvaniaâ€™s state forest over the next two decades as a result of the Marcellus natural gas boom. But did you know that untold numbers of wells could be drilled in state parks?
At least 61 state parks lie atop the Marcellus formation, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) doesnâ€™t own the mineral rights to about 85 percent of state park land. That means that it has little ability to control â€“ and no ability to stop â€“ drilling in most of these parks, or the 15 percent of state forest land where gas rights are held privately.
Seismic trucks have already pounded the ground around Ohiopyle State Park â€“ home to some of the best camping and white water rafting in the world â€“ in preparation for drilling. Companies are exploring other parks.
The prospect of drill rigs in parks â€“ and roads, and pipelines, and truck traffic, and noise, and air pollution, and all the other disruptions associated with gas drilling â€“ is jarring.
The reality will be worse.
Should these special lands receive special protection as wells and roads and water impoundments and pipelines are sited?
Should drillers be required to coordinate with DCNR to minimize ecological and other impacts when they decide where to drill?
Should DCNR be required to do an environmental analysis of the potential impacts of drilling on the environment, public recreation, and aesthetics, and share this information with drillers and DEP before permits are issued?
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) used to think so.
Section 205 of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s Oil and Gas Act requires DEP to consider the impact of a proposed well on public resources, including publicly owned parks and forests, when making a determination on a well permit. On October 25, 2010, DEP adopted a policy to ensure that drillers and DEP coordinate with DCNR to consider the impacts of gas wells that are proposed on State Park and State Forest land. Â Most of the work required under this policy falls on DCNR, not drilling companies.
In todayâ€™s Pennsylvania Bulletin, DEP announced that it was rescinding this policy, saying that it â€œwas not subject to advanced public comment or review.â€ That much is true, and the omission of this step was probably an error, or at least not in keeping with DCNRâ€™s longstanding practice of transparency and open communication with stakeholders. Since I was DCNR Secretary when the policy was put in place, I will take my share of the blame for that error.
But the rest of the explanation for the rescission is troubling. DEP says that the policy â€œis being rescinded as unnecessary and redundant of existing practice. The Department is implementing Section 205(c) and will continue to do so. The Department will continue to consider the input of all applicable parties with respect to public resourcesâ€¦â€
Special care is vital when allowing drilling on public land. There are gaping holes in DEP and DCNRâ€™s ability to take that care. The policy was designed to close them. Letâ€™s hope that DEP will reconsider the rescission and instead propose the rule and take public and stakeholder comments, and then reinstate the policy as quickly as possible.
How can we guarantee protection of public land and safeguard other uses of Pennsylvanianâ€™s parks and forests without these protections?
DEP ID: 550-2116-001. Title: Policy for the Evaluation of Impacts of Oil and Gas Development on State Parks and State Forests. Description: This document, which was not subject to advanced public comment or review, is being rescinded as unnecessary and redundant of existing practice. The Department is implementing Section 205(c) and will continue to do so. The Department will continue to consider the input of all applicable parties with respect to public resources outlined in Section 205(c). Contact: Questions regarding the rescission of this policy document should be directed to Patricia Allan at pmallan@ state.pa.us or (717) 783-8727.