Morgantown, WV Bans Marcellus Drilling Outside City Limits – Driller May Sue to Recoup Investment

After a few months of heated debate, the Morgantown (WV) City Council has voted to prohibit Marcellus Shale drilling not only within their borders, but also up to a mile outside of their borders. How can they do that? There is a provision in West Virginia state code that allows cities to extend their authority up to a mile beyond their borders to carry out city functions. It is that state loophole that Morgantown has used to shut down two wells slated to be drilled.

Morgantown City Council voted 6-1 on June 21 to pass an ordinance prohibiting horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing within a mile outside city limits.

It’s been an issue of hot discussion in Morgantown since early May, when the city’s residents learned after the fact that Northeast Natural Energy of Charleston had been permitted to drill two Marcellus Shale natural gas wells just upriver from the area’s drinking water intake on the Monongahela River.

Residents expressed concerns about the possibility of an drilling or hydraulic fracturing accident that would contaminate drinking water, as well as air quality and other concerns, and they expressed frustration that there is no public notification and comment process for gas wells.

NNE’s well pad is located outside but within a mile outside city limits; the Morgantown council is following Wellsburg’s lead in relying on a provision of state code that allows cities to extend their authority for up to a mile beyond their boundaries when needed to carry out city functions.*

The president of Northeast Natural Energy, Mike John, addressed city council and hinted that the City can expect a lawsuit so they can recoup their $7 million investment:

John noted that his company’s wells have received permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

He added that his company met the additional assurances of the Morgantown Utility Board, the provider of drinking water for about 90,000 in the region — assurances that he viewed as having come from the city through MUB.

“Given this history, we were surprised that, despite our good faith effort to work with the city to their apparent satisfaction, we find ourselves before council tonight as you move forward to ban drilling and fracking within a mile of city limits,” John said.

“While there is risk associated with any industrial process, given the safeguards that we have implemented and the nature of the site, we believe it is impossible for an incident to occur that would impact Morgantown’s drinking water in any meaningful way,” he added.

He asked what the city is willing to compensate his company for the $7 million it has invested in its site based on good faith interactions with the city.*

*WOWK/CBS (Jun 22, 2011) – Morgantown City Council Bans Horizontal Drilling with Hydraulic Fracturing