Responsible Drilling Alliance

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22
Apr

Taking On the Fifth Column‏

Dear RDA Members,
 
Three weeks ago, the PA House and Senate each passed, by strong majority votes that fell predominantly along party lines, SB1100 and HB 1950, two bills that amount to posting a “Welcome, Weasels and Foxes” sign on the hen house that is our state. Our explanation of the subject is rather lengthy this week, but our sincere hope is that you’ll come away from this issue of the RDA newsletter with a much better understanding of the facts, and enough indignation to take action. Read on!
 
Good luck to those of you who attempt to read these bills in their entirety. It’s doubtful most of our legislators will make the effort. For those of you with little tolerance for boilerplate and legalese, we suggest a couple of different takes on the bills. NPR’s Scott Detrow’s report from November 19th,   “Preemption Language Gone, But Pennsylvania’s Impact Fee Would Still Limit Local Governments”, is available at:
 
 
State Senator Eugene Yaw sent out a letter to those who had contacted him regarding the legislation. If you call or e-mail his office, you can no doubt request a copy. gyaw@pasen.gov or (717) 787-3280 
 
It is infuriating that these bills boil down to rolling over for a horrible assault on local determination, while at the same time, there is little focus on the ridiculously low amount of revenue either bill will raise. 
 
The Senate’s 3% will probably prevail over the house’s 1%, and the higher percentage will be touted as a big victory for Pennsylvanians while giving the Aubrey McClendon’s of the world a gigantic windfall to spend on additional $5,000 bottles of wine to share with reporters and to purchase more antique collectables they can foist off on their own company when their reckless ways once again get them in a pinch for money.  At the same time, the bills will free up huge amounts of what the gas industry fully expected to have to pay in taxes; allowing them to spend even more on what used to be called “brain washing”; the industry’s relentless advertising and PR initiatives.
 
When it comes to tax revenue from the gas extracted from beneath our Commonwealth, why Pennsylvania’s “leaders” don’t think we deserve to be on a par with Texas, Alaska, Oklahoma, Wyoming and our neighbor’s in West Virginia, is mind boggling. But until the current administration is voted out of office by formerly slumbering PA citizens, why bother to advocate for the national norm of a severance tax? Instead we are forced to settle for making the industry pay the costs of direct impacts, costs that anyone doing business in PA causing damage and requiring government expenditures should pay.
 
Inadequate setbacks will be touted as victories, though there is one big improvement in SB 1100. Described by Senator Yaw, it would “Triple the distance of presumed liability for contamination for the operator from 1,000 feet to 3,000 feet”.But before we thank the Senator for spearheading this embrace of common decency, let’s see if this clause survives the reconciliation process that sends a final bill to the Governor to sign into law.
 
What do we need to understand about the crushing blow these bills deliver to any hope of local control of the gas industry’s takeover of our rural communities?  Detrow explains;
 
Both the House and Senate added language into their Marcellus Shale bills this week requiring local governments to allow natural gas wells to operate in all zones, including residential. The near identical sections in HB 1950 and SB 1100 also empower Pennsylvania’s Attorney General to serve as the judge of whether or not a municipality’s drilling ordinances are ‘reasonable’. Under the provisions, the Attorney General can bar a township or borough from receiving any impact fee revenue. The Attorney General would also have the power to bring suit against the offending municipality in Commonwealth Court.
 
Yaw assures Aubrey and colleagues, “The bill also establishes an appeals process for operators through the Attorney General’s Office regarding local zoning ordinances.” 
 
He goes on to inform us:
 
Senate Bill 1100 does not preempt local municipalities from passing zoning ordinances related to natural gas development. Simply, it allows an operator or person with a royalty interest to developable land to request the Attorney General to review a local ordinance to determine whether it allows for the reasonable development of oil and gas. This is consistent with Pennsylvania’s ACRE program which settles disputes between the agricultural community and local governments. The zoning provision in the legislation still allows municipalities to impose restrictions including: setbacks, lighting and noise restrictions consistent with other industrial  activities in a zoning district and applicable state laws or regulations. Furthermore, if a municipality determines that no well site can be placed so that a well head is at least 500 feet    from an existing building in a residential district, the municipality retains the power to prohibit   oil and gas operations or permit it as a conditional use.
 
Detrow digs in:
 
The legislation requires municipalities’ ordinances to ‘provide for the reasonable development  of minerals’.  What’s reasonable? By and large, that’s for the Attorney General and the Commonwealth Court to decide. But the bills both set parameters local governments would be required to follow. Municipalities would have to:
    • Complete permit reviews within thirty days.
    • Allow oil and gas operations and impoundment pools in all zones, including residential.
    • Allow compressor stations and natural gas processing plants in agricultural and industrial zones.
    • Keep drilling regulations in line with existing construction and industrial zoning. That means a township wouldn’t be able to set one standard for noise emitted by compressor stations, and another for factories within its borders.
The legislation also sets a mandatory 300 foot buffer zone between well pads and residential buildings. Compressor stations would need to be 750 feet from buildings, and could not exceed a sound of 60 decibels at the adjoining property line.
 
Detrow continues:
 
Why the standards? Drew Crompton, the chief-of-staff for Senate President Pro Tem Joe  Scarnati, explained they’re meant as a way to keep municipalities from enacting effective    moratoriums on drilling within their boundaries. It prevents ‘silly ordinances’ aimed at keeping drillers away he explained, like bans on water trucks within municipal limits. ‘That is    unreasonable,’ he said, ‘and makes the industry go nutty. …This is meant to set baselines to prevent that from occurring.’
 
…the legislation would allow the Attorney General to file suit against the local government in Commonwealth Court, in order to invalidate the ordinance. Effectively, the Pennsylvania  Attorney General would be suing on behalf of an aggrieved drilling company. If a special master appointed by Commonwealth Court rules on the driller’s behalf, the court would have the power to make the municipality pay both sides’ legal fees.
 
Senator Yaw accentuates what he views as the positives in the bill:


This legislation made sweeping changes to the Oil and Gas Act which were previously updated in 1984. As I have said before, protecting the environment was one of the most important issues surrounding the natural gas discussions, and this legislation does just that. SB 1100 would:
    • Restrict a well from being located within 1,000 feet of a public water supply source defined in the Safe Drinking Water Act;
    • Triple the setback distance from streams from 100 feet to 300 feet
    • Triple the distance of presumed liability for contamination for the operator from 1,000 feet to 3,000 feet
    • More than double the setback distance from an existing building or personal water well from 200 feet to 500 feet
    • Increase well bonding limits from $25,000 to $600,000
    • Increase civil penalties from $25,000 to $75,000
    • Require disclosure of hydraulic fracturing components
    • Require the department to adopt regulations regarding the transportation of wastewater.
In his report, Detrow shares the words of Myron Arnowitt, the state director of Clean Water Action. Arnowitt notes: “Drilling opponents are up in arms over the restrictions, especially the requirement to allow drilling within residential zones. It makes sweeping new restrictions on what towns can do with their zoning. Well pads and frack pits full of chemicals will be allowed as close to 300 feet to your home, or your child’s school.”  Arnowitt said he’s concerned the restrictions would “make it almost impossible for townships to exercise their rights and obligations to protect their residents, businesses, and community quality of life.”
 
Senator Yaw ends his comments with these words, “I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue. Please do not hesitate to call should you have additional questions or concerns.”
 
If the amount of the revenue to be raised by either of theses bills doesn’t bother you, if the weakness of most of the setbacks doesn’t alarm you, if the assault on community rights in these bills doesn’t disgust you and move you into action, at least forward this newsletter on to your tea party activist dry cleaner, your libertarian dentist, your old-line Republican neighbors or your conservative NRA member high school buddies. 
 
Pennsylvanians need to take Senator Yaw up on his words, letting him and his comrades around the state know it is unacceptable our legislators are more concerned about fixing what makes the gas industry “go nutty” than in protecting the health, property values and quality of life of PA citizens. Usurping a local community’s democratic right to determine what is best for its residents is just plain wrong. It is big government, big brother and big industry power at its worst. If these elected officials don’t hear from you, loud and clear and in large numbers, Scarnatti, Yaw and their brigades of camp followers will never figure it out.
 
Senators Scarnati, Yaw, Pileggi, Costa, Hughes, Piccola, Folmer, Baker, Greenleaf, Ferlo’s  e-mail addresses: ( for those in your area, including State Representatives, check the RDA website: www.responsibledrillingalliance.org
 
 

 

— 
Responsible Drilling Alliance, Board of Directors
Ralph Kisberg
Robbie Cross
Mark Szybist
Barb Jarmoska
Janie Richardson
 
Email: info@responsibledrillingalliance.org
Website: http://www.responsibledrillingalliance.org
Address: Responsible Drilling Alliance, Box 502, Williamsport PA 17703
 

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