Driller Sues Morgantown, WV Over Fracking Ban, Monongalia County Considers Suing the City Too

As MDN previously observed and predicted, the city of Morgantown, WV is now in court over the vote by city council members to ban Marcellus drilling both inside and outside of its borders—up to one mile outside.

Northeast Natural Energy filed a complaint in Monongalia County Circuit Court Friday asking for an injunction blocking the city’s just-passed ordinance that prevents natural gas well hydraulic fracturing (fracking).(1)

In passing the fracking ban, city council members said they were worried that the drilling was too close to the city’s water supplies and that an accident would be catastrophic for the city. They passed a ban outside (as well as inside) their borders based on a state law allowing cities to extend their jurisdictional reach up to one mile outside city limits in certain circumstances.

Northeast Natural Energy says they received the proper permits from the state Division of Environmental Protection, had been working with the city during every step of the process (even making changes the city wanted), and had already begun sinking wells with an estimated $7 million invested to date before the city arbitrarily passed the ban. And therefore, it has no other recourse but to try and overturn the ban and/or recover their investment.

“While we had hoped to avoid this action, it has become apparent that the judicial system is the only recourse to protect our rights and the investment in our wells in the Morgantown Industrial Park,” said Northeast President Mike John.

John argues that the city’s fracking ban “violates our company’s constitutional rights” and represents an “unlawful taking of our property rights.”

John says Northeast has already spent $7 million on the drilling operation and expects to begin fracking operations in mid- to late August.(1)

A copy of the Northeast lawsuit filed is embedded below. The temporary injunction requested in the filing (which would allow Northeast to continue drilling) was denied by the court, but the lawsuit continues.

Meanwhile, county officials are mulling over what they should do about Morgantown’s ban, including the possibility that the county itself may file a lawsuit against the city.

The [Monongalia County] commissioners said they’ll talk with their own legal council to decide on a position they should take in regards to Morgantown’s fracking ban.

“At this time, we haven’t approved taking any legal action against the city of Morgantown, and hopefully that’s not going to happen. But we’ll have to evaluate what our legal council advises,” said Monongalia County Commissioner Bill Bartolo.(2)

(1) West Virginia MetroNews (Jun 24, 2011) – Driller Challenges Fracking Ban

(2) WDTV News 5 (Jun 29, 2011) – Marcellus Shale Discussed Again in Mon County Commission