Rush Township PA Attempts Drilling Ban with Novel Ordinance

Those opposed to Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Rush Township (Centre County), PA, including a majority of the supervisors in the township, believe they have found a new and novel way to ban drilling that will skirt state law which says only the state has the right to regulate oil and gas drilling. This new way is to introduce an ordinance that prohibits drilling in any location that is a source for public drinking water supplies on the theory that drilling activity near those sources is a threat to the public.

It’s a stretch, but Rush officials are gambling this new ordinance may succeed where an outright ban on drilling would likely be overturned in court. The end result of an outright ban or this new ordinance will be the same: An almost total ban on shale gas drilling in the township, denying landowners their property rights.

The ordinance, which amends the existing Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance, seeks to prohibit drilling in “zones of contribution,” or sources, of public drinking water. It implicitly labels hydro-fracking as a threat to the township’s public water supplies.

According to the document prepared by township solicitor David Mason, the ordinance “Intends to prohibit within any “zone of contribution to a discharging well” any activity which involves earth disturbance, hydraulic fracturing, injection, extraction, or removal of ground or surface water (except as provided), or any other practice, industry or activity which has the potential to impair, injure or degrade any of the natural sources of water, whether in the ground or on the surface, within Rush Township because it threatens the health, safety, and welfare of the residents, citizens, and neighbors of Rush Township.”

Mason said the township would hire hydrologists to identify the zones of contribution in the township, map them and know where their fault-lines are, so they can then be labeled as “zones of high risk” and forbid drilling near them.

Mason argues in his brief that the township is vested with the protection of its water supplies (and Rush Township is the source of supply for more than a dozen municipalities). According to Mason’s document, “Local regulation and local control of the local supplies of natural water is permitted by and based upon the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 1, Section 27.”

That section of the Constitution reads: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

Violators of the ordinance would face a summary offense, a fine, and would be responsible for damages.

Township officials are hopeful this ordinance may help stem the tide of drilling in their community, though three Marcellus wells have already been drilled in Rush Township and three more are permitted.*

*State College Centre Daily Times (Oct 17, 2011) – Rush Township takes novel approach to curb drilling