Lycoming County’s Gas Drilling Zoning Ordinance Commissioners briefly delay
the voteWhat’s next?
Thanks to those of you who responded to last week’s request by RDA to
contact the Lycoming County Commissioners and request that they postpone
their vote on the new gas drilling zoning ordinance. The Commissioners
responded by moving the vote back one week, from Feb 17th to the 24th.
Although we appreciate the Commissioners’ response, we do not believe a
7-day delay serves a valid purpose.
Rather, we request the vote be postponed for the time it takes the Planning
1. Review all of the spoken and written comments submitted at the hearing
2. Revisit the amendments in light of those comments
3. Revise the amendments in accordance with the comments and explain the
reasons behind any case where revisions are not made
The County should then publish the revised amendments, solicit additional
comments, and conduct a public hearing.
If the Commissioners intend to approve the amendments on February 24, they
should incorporate a procedural framework and a timeline for amending the
Ordinance. The procedural framework should incorporate the three steps above
and a public hearing should be scheduled within 4 months.
Thus far, the public has been denied an opportunity for meaningful
participation in the amendment process. Prior to publishing the draft
amendments for public comment, the Commission consulted regularly with the
County Gas Task Force and industry representatives, yet solicited no advice
from the public or any environmental organizations. Nor did the Commission
conduct any public meetings that would have enabled citizens to share their
suggestions and concerns before a formal hearing. Sadly, the draft
amendments reflect this lack of public participation. While they are
undoubtedly an improvement over the County's current zoning ordinance, they
contain numerous gaps and flaws.
The County has spent more than two years in developing the amendments. In
the meantime, there have been tens of Marcellus wells drilled (and
associated infrastructure installed) in the seventeen municipalities covered
by County zoning. Several have been the scenes of spills, leaks, and other
accidents. Gas development in the Marcellus Shale is risky business, and
stringent, comprehensive and lawful zoning controls are sorely needed. There
would be little harm in the Commissioners postponing a vote on the
amendments for a few more months in order to make specific, much-needed
improvements. Many of these have already been identified, as follows:
Proposed oil & gas amendments to Lycoming County Zoning Ordinance
- A 200-foot setback is minimal. The Ordinance should provide for the
requirement of a deeper setback where the pre-existing use warrants greater
- Source water protection measures for all public and community water
systems are most critical for public heath safeguards and need to be
developed in collaboration with the public water system suppliers.
- Air quality impact studies on public health from volatile organics and
fumes from gas processing facilities should be required and include a
professional Air Quality Baseline Assessment based upon air dispersion
modeling which takes into account cumulative effects from other facilities,
followed by an Air Quality Monitoring Plan.
- Zoning Permits should be required when pipelines cross public
facilities such as water supply reservoirs, watershed lands, water mains,
sewer lines, storm water drainage and retention facilities, school sites,
and public parks.
- Occupancy Permits should be required before beginning operational use
of a facility.
- Any request to locate a gas-processing facility or compressor station
within 4,000 feet of a school must include a determination of any possible
adverse health effects on the students and staff.
- Specification maps should include alignment of all pipeline(s), and all
transportation routes for: equipment, stone, chemicals, water, wastewater
and related materials used for oil and gas development.
- The applicant should provide an in-depth Restoration Plan for the
entire site and all related disturbed areas.
- A Business Solicitation Permit should be required for seismic testing
on private property.
- The strongest legal controls are essential for regulation of gas wells
and all forms of wastewater handling and storage, especially in floodplains
(not just the floodway).
- Setback distances need to be measured from the edge of the well pad and
NOT from the well bore.
- Zoning should regulate water surface use.
- Additional wells on pre-existing well pads can generate substantial
impacts and a Zoning Permit may be needed for these.
Quigley Expresses Concern Over Rescinded Regulation
John Quigley, who was relieved of his position as Secretary of
Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) by
incoming governor Tom Corbett, wrote the following article on February 18th.
*Protection for State Parks and State Forests*
As many as 12,000 natural gas wells could be drilled in Pennsylvania’s state
forest over the next two decades as a result of the Marcellus natural gas
boom. But did you know that untold numbers of wells could be drilled in
At least 61 state parks lie atop the Marcellus formation, and the Department
of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) doesn’t own the mineral rights
to about 85 percent of state park land. That means that it has little
ability to control – and no ability to stop – drilling in most of these
parks, or the 15 percent of state forest land where gas rights are held
Seismic trucks have already pounded the ground around Ohiopyle State Park –
home to some of the best camping and white water rafting in the world – in
preparation for drilling. Companies are exploring other parks.
The prospect of drill rigs in parks – and roads, and pipelines, and truck
traffic, and noise, and air pollution, and all the other disruptions
associated with gas drilling – is jarring.
*The reality will be worse. *
Should these special lands receive special protection as wells and roads and
water impoundments and pipelines are sited?
Should drillers be required to coordinate with DCNR to minimize ecological
and other impacts when they decide where to drill?
Should DCNR be required to do an environmental analysis of the potential
impacts of drilling on the environment, public recreation, and aesthetics,
and share this information with drillers and DEP before permits are issued?
*The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) used to think so.*
Section 205 of Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act requires DEP to consider the
impact of a proposed well on public resources, including publicly owned
parks and forests, when making a determination on a well permit. On October
25, 2010, DEP adopted a policy to ensure that drillers and DEP coordinate
with DCNR to consider the impacts of gas wells that are proposed on State
Park and State Forest land. Most of the work required under this policy
falls on DCNR, not drilling companies.
*In today’s Pennsylvania Bulletin, **DEP announced that it was rescinding
saying that it “was not subject to advanced public comment or review.” That
much is true, and the omission of this step was probably an error, or at
least not in keeping with DCNR’s longstanding practice of transparency and
open communication with stakeholders. Since I was DCNR Secretary when the
policy was put in place, I will take my share of the blame for that error.
But the rest of the explanation for the rescission is troubling. DEP says
that the policy “is being rescinded as unnecessary and redundant of existing
practice. The Department is implementing Section 205(c) and will continue to
do so. The Department will continue to consider the input of all applicable
parties with respect to public resources…”
Special care is vital when allowing drilling on public land. There are
gaping holes in DEP and DCNR’s ability to take that care. The policy was
designed to close them. Let’s hope that DEP will reconsider the rescission
and instead propose the rule and take public and stakeholder comments, and
then reinstate the policy as quickly as possible.
How can we guarantee protection of public land and safeguard other uses of
Pennsylvanian’s parks and forests without these protections?
*DEP ID: 550-2116-001. Title: Policy for the Evaluation of Impacts of Oil
and Gas Development on State Parks and State Forests. Description: This
document, which was not subject to advanced public comment or review, is
being rescinded as unnecessary and redundant of existing practice. The
Department is implementing Section 205(c) and will continue to do so. The
Department will continue to consider the input of all applicable parties
with respect to public resources outlined in Section 205(c). Contact:
Questions regarding the rescission of this policy document should be
directed to Patricia Allan at pmallan@ state.pa.us or (717) 783-8727.*