Morgantown moves forward on drilling regulations - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Morgantown moves forward on drilling regulations

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By CYNTHIA McCLOUD

For The State Journal

MORGANTOWN — The city of Morgantown moved forward June 5 in its efforts to regulate extractive industries such as drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus shale.

Morgantown City Council unanimously passed the first reading of zoning ordinances that will limit extraction activities only to industrialized zones that meet certain requirements. 

Council members also repealed, on a 6-1 vote, a horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing ban that Monongalia County Circuit Court overturned last year. Councilman Bill Byrne cast the dissenting vote because, he said, he didn't want to remove the ban before new zoning laws were on the books.

If the ordinances pass the second reading and final vote during the July 3 City Council meeting, drilling will be allowed within city limits only at the industrial zone that includes the Morgantown Airport and, for research purposes, on property owned by West Virginia University.

"We cannot utilize our zoning regulations in West Virginia to exclude any type of land use," said Christopher Fletcher, Morgantown's Director of Development Services. "In fact, it's the exact opposite. We have to find places in the municipality for all land uses and development to occur." 

City planners have determined the best places in Morgantown for extractive drilling to occur are its six industrial districts. But those industrial districts can contain an extractive industry site only if it is 625 feet from any residential areas, schools, day care facilities, hospitals, churches or parks. Sites also have to be 100 feet from the floodplain, 1,000 feet from the public water supply intake and 1,000 feet from the floodplain of the Monongahela River south or upstream of the Morgantown Lock and Dam.

Fletcher said the setback provisions are based on the Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act that the Legislature passed in December. The city modified the setbacks for use in an urban setting, he said. 

"Most of our industrial districts are along the river, are along creeks and other bodies of water. What the state required was 100 feet from a creek or water body or a river or wetland," he said. "The state code did not provide some direction on where you measure from. The high water mark, the average water mark? There's no additional information that we need to get an accurate measurement. What we thought the best approach to be in an urban environment is to use the floodplain that is delineated on floodplain maps. Water isn't flowing in those areas but during flood events, we wanted to protect those sensitive areas."

When the setbacks are taken into account, the only district suitable for drilling is the one that is surrounded by airport property.

Morgantown is densely settled so space for industries is limited, Councilwoman Jenny Selin said.

Site location is not the only thing drillers will have to consider. The city will have to review detailed site plans plus transportation route plans. Transportation protection agreements might also be required. When the drilling is approved, there would be conditions to meet on-site: landscaping, fencing and gating, parking and signage.

Certain conditions will be placed on the operation focusing on security; noise, exhaust and dust control; secondary containment; spill reporting; flaring restrictions, including public notice; waste management and disposal; maintenance, clean-up and restoration.

The proposal is not unusually restrictive, Fletcher has said in the past.

"Our research shows that we're in line with what other communities are doing across the country that are experiencing extractive development," he previously told The State Journal.

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