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Pennsylvania Voters Nix Two Frack Bans; State College Ban Passes

Election Day in Pennsylvania turned out to be a mixed bag over the issue of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Marcellus and Utica shales, with voters soundly defeating referendums that would have banned the practice in Peters Township and the City of Warren, but overwhelmingly supporting a similar measure in the Borough of State College.

In Peters Township, a wealthy Pittsburgh suburb on the northern edge of Washington County, the township council urged voters to oppose a referendum there on the grounds that it could open the municipality to lawsuits from landowners and oil and gas companies (see Shale Daily, Oct. 28). Voters sided with the council and rejected a proposed "Peters Township Bill of Rights," by 5,196-1,105 (82.5%-17.5%), not counting absentee ballots.

"I told you we have a highly educated electorate and I expected that it would get shot down," Peters Township Councilman Frank Arcuri told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday.

Arcuri added that the township would move forward with the mineral extraction ordinance it passed on Aug. 8 (see Shale Daily, Sept. 15). "The way it plays out right now, we have our zoning ordinance in effect," he said. "It's about as restrictive as we could make it within the parameters of the [state] constitution. I guess we'll see how that goes."

For the environmental group Peters Township Marcellus Shale Awareness (PTMSA), which fought the township in court -- and won -- to have the referendum placed on the ballot, Tuesday's results were a stinging rebuke (see Shale Daily, Oct. 6).

"While only gaining 17.5% of the vote...we have to be extremely pleased with the courage and determination of this group of voters," the PTMSA said on its website Wednesday. "They had the capacity to think through the hype from township council, the usurped resources of the Republican party and an incredible and slick media blitz by the gas industry."

According to media reports, voters in the City of Warren -- located in Warren County in the northwest corner of the state -- rejected an amendment to the city's charter that would have banned fracking by a 1,316 to 795 (62.3%-37.7%) vote. "This process has fulfilled its purpose and demonstrated that people have a seat at the table where they have a say," Barb Lucia -- a member of the environmental group West Side Alliance (WSA), which lobbied for the amendment -- told the Times Observer.

Like Peters Township, Warren officials were worried that the amendment's passage would have been a liability to the city. "We were very happy it was defeated," Warren City Manager James Nelles told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday, adding that the referendum was unconstitutional. "It was a step up for our voters and our taxpayers, and now we don't have to spend any more funds to fight this thing. We're looking forward to just moving on."

Nelles said WSA's real target was a proposed $70-100 million wastewater treatment facility that would treat Marcellus Shale wastewater and could employ between 50 and 70 people. He said there were very few areas in the city that could accommodate oil and gas drilling activities, and none were big enough for Marcellus shale gas drilling.

"That was never really an issue, although [WSA] tried to make it an issue," Nelles said. "This is a high-technology plant and it would be a tremendous boost for us. It's still on the drawing board because we had to kill this [referendum] first. Now that that's done maybe we can start looking forward to building this plant."

Although five of the seven State College Borough Council members wrote a letter to the Centre Daily Times opposing the proposed frack ban there -- along similar lines with their counterparts in Peters Township and Warren -- the measure passed soundly, 2,005 to 763 (72.43%-27.57%). "This is a historic day for State College," Groundswell PA, one of several environmental groups pushing the fracking ban, said on its website Wednesday. "The voters sent a clear and loud message Tuesday: We have the right to a sustainable future. We will stand up for local democracy and stand up against the fracking industry."

Other groups working for the fracking ban in State College were reportedly Sierra Club, Moshannon Group, Environmental Coalition of Centre County, Eco-Action Student Club and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). Before Tuesday's vote, Nelles said he laid out the proposed referendums from all three localities -- Warren, Peters Township and State College -- and said they were mostly identical. He also said that they were written by the CELDF, which is based in Mercersburg, PA.

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