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Morgantown, WV, Holds Off on Fracking Appeal

The city of Morgantown, WV, made no moves to appeal to the state Supreme Court a judge's ruling that struck down its ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking). It is instead considering its options to seek additional safety measures from Northeast Natural Energy (NNE).

Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Susan Tucker ruled last Friday that a city ordinance banning fracking within the city and an adjacent one-mile buffer zone was not enforceable because the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has exclusive jurisdiction over oil and gas regulation (see Shale Daily, Aug. 16).

Morgantown Mayor Jim Manilla told NGI's Shale Daily the city council met in executive session during its meeting Tuesday night to discuss the city's options. "We haven't made our decision yet on whether to appeal or not," Manilla said Thursday. "We have four months to decide whether or not we want to file an appeal. But we did discuss some options that we're going to continue to discuss and see what happens with that."

Manilla said those options involved requesting NNE to take additional safety measures at its two gas wells in the Morgantown Industrial Park. The wells are approximately 2,000 feet from the Monongahela River and an additional 1,500 feet from the city's municipal water intake.

"We want to see if we can work together with the company in some way to implement a few more things," Manilla said. "It's in their hands if they want to decide to do that or not."

NNE spokesman Brian Brown told NGI's Shale Daily he wasn't in a position to comment on any potential additional safety measures at the two wells, citing the uncertainty of the situation. "We are grateful for [Tucker's] thoughtful and detailed ruling," Brown said Friday. "Anything we do moving forward, we remain committed to making those two wells -- and all other wells that we drill -- as safe as possible."

In an earlier statement, the Charleston, WV-based company said it hoped to begin fracking the two wells in September but still needed to secure a service company for the job.

Manilla said a handful of people weighed in on the fracking debate during the public comment period at Tuesday night's meeting. "We had about five people speak," Manilla said. "Some people were asking us to stay strong and to appeal it. There weren't as many people there as there had been in the past. And then we also received some e-mails and a phone call urging us not to appeal. Some citizens don't want us to go in that direction."

The city council meets again on Aug. 30 as a committee of the whole, but it takes no official action at those meetings. Its next official meeting is scheduled for Sept. 6.

NNE accepted additional measures beyond permit requirements in May when it agreed to adopt closed-loop drilling systems for both the air-drilled and fluid-filled portions of its two wells (see Shale Daily, May 25). Despite the concession, Morgantown enacted its ordinance on June 21 and NNE in turn filed lawsuit two days later to prevent the city from enforcing the ban (see Shale Daily, June 28; June 23).

In her ruling, Tucker cited Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's executive order from July directing the DEP to begin enforcing several new safeguards on shale drilling, and to identify areas of regulatory concern (see Shale Daily, July 14).

Several municipalities across the Marcellus Shale region have been grappling with the issue of whether or not to implement local fracking bans. Recently the city of Wellsburg, WV, repealed an ordinance banning fracking, and the mayor of Pittsburgh said he would not sign a measure that would ask voters to approve a ban in a referendum (see Shale Daily, Aug. 11; Aug. 10).

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