There is a “tug of war” going on in Pennsylvania for who will ultimately control where, and under what conditions, Marcellus Shale gas wells can be drilled. The struggle pits the state against local municipalities. As with many issues surrounding shale gas drilling, this one is complicated.
Pennsylvania has more than 2,500 township and municipal governments across the state—more than any other state—even though there are four other states with larger populations (CA, TX, NY, and FL). Local governments are responsive to the people in their communities.
But when it comes to the issue of drilling, local governments, in being “responsive” are often trampling the rights of local property owners to use their land as they see fit. Local municipalities will say they regulate where malls and shopping centers can be built, where factories can be built, and whether or not land in residential areas can be re-zoned for other purposes, on a case by case basis. Why not the industrial process of constructing a gas well? And they ask the state, “Would you like it if the federal government stripped away your rights to self government? Why do you want to take away ours?”
According to a lawsuit filed on Monday, the U.S. government is obstructing legitimate and legal gas drilling in the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) in northwestern PA. A court in Eire, PA has been asked to find them in contempt and force them to allow drilling to proceed on a timely basis.
A brief background on the ANF and why the lawsuit was filed:
Pittsburgh City Councilman Doug Shields has been a tireless anti-drilling crusader (see previous MDN stories here). Fortunately, he leaves office at the end of December—he didn’t run for re-election. But before he goes, he wants to take one parting shot at the drilling industry.
Yesterday, Mr. Shields introduced “toxic trespass” legislation, which is designed to try and stop drilling in other locations by inferring they may release chemicals into the environment that will find their way to Pittsburgh via rivers and streams and therefore Pittsburgh will sue them out of existence if they get even a whiff of something they don’t like. Nice way to go out Doug…