Shale Daily / NGI All News Access

Morgantown Tables Frack Ban, Looks to Amend Zoning Laws

More than two months after a judge ruled that its ordinance banning hydraulic fracturing (fracking) was illegal, the city of Morgantown, WV, has decided to table, not outright rescind, the measure as it looks for other ways to restrict the practice.

After debating the issue during its meeting on Nov. 1, the Morgantown City Council voted 6-1 to table the issue altogether and give its planning zoning officials more time to craft legislation that would restrict fracking within the city limits.

"We discussed a timeline and our thoughts were to create a mechanism [to govern fracking] through planning and zoning laws," council member Wes Nugent told NGI's Shale Daily on Monday. "This council is focused on the health and well being of all city residents, and wants to be fair to all of the parties involved by creating a framework that defines how this type of activity could be conducted.

"The ban didn't address any of the concerns we had. It was passed by the previous City Council as a way to get the attention of our state legislators that they needed to get serious and enact tougher regulations at the state level."

Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Susan Tucker struck down the city's ordinance -- which banned fracking within the city and an adjacent one-mile buffer zone -- on the grounds that the state Department of Environmental Protection has exclusive dominion over the regulation of natural gas drilling (see Shale Daily, Aug. 16).

Nugent, who took office in July, said any future planning and zoning laws would be for within the city limits only and didn't think it would completely prohibit fracking.

"It would definitely limit it," Nugent said. "I couldn't say at this point that it would completely prohibit it. Right now all of our industrial parcels are wide open, so we do need to put something in place."

Nugent said Mayor Jim Manilla, who also took office in July, cast the lone dissenting vote. Manilla could not be reached for comment Monday.

"He and some other council members, myself included, felt that the ban should be rescinded because it's illegal and it's currently on our books," Nugent said of Manilla. "He didn't want to confuse the public. But we wanted to leave all of our options open at this point since we missed the 30-day period where we could appeal the judge's ruling."

Morgantown enacted the ban over fears that operations at two Marcellus Shale gas wells owned by Northeast Natural Energy could foul the Monongahela River and the city's municipal water intake. The wells, located in the Morgantown Industrial Park, are about 2,000 feet from the river and an additional 1,500 feet from the intake.

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