A Pennsylvania state lawmaker wants to form a cooperative so that local municipalities can share ideas and resources as they manage development of the Marcellus Shale.
Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat from Washington County, believes a cooperative could help local governments deal with issues they have never been forced to consider before.
While the scope of the cooperative would be set by its members, White believes municipalities could use the structure to jointly hire a natural gas enforcement officer who would travel throughout a region enforcing codes, or to form an advisory board that would help draft ordinances and hold educational events on industry-related issues.
Although White began promoting his idea more heavily following an explosion in late February at a Chesapeake Energy Corp. storage tank in the Washington County village of Avella, he said the Marcellus Municipal Cooperative is "neither pro-drilling nor anti-drilling."
"This is about finding more efficient and effective ways to carry out our core responsibilities as elected officials, not promoting any sort of political or social agenda," White said.
Washington County, west of Pittsburgh, is a hot spot for Marcellus Shale activity, the third most productive county in the state and among the earliest sites for shale drilling.
White held a public meeting on the idea Tuesday to gather ideas from 20 municipalities in his district, which also includes parts of Allegheny and Beaver counties. He now plans to formally invite municipalities into the program and hopes to launch something by summer.
Although far from the only state in which cities and towns are quickly boning up on natural gas issues, Pennsylvania is unique because of the sheer volume of municipalities within its borders: 56 cities, 958 boroughs and 1,547 townships, as well as 67 counties.
Bradford County in northeastern Pennsylvania was the state's top Marcellus producing county between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010, with cumulative production of 48.6 Bcfe, followed by neighboring Susquehanna County (41.6 Bcfe) and, in the state's southwestern corner, Washington County (37.8 Bcfe).
Court cases in recent years have determined that those smaller governments don't have the authority to ban drilling -- although some, most notably Pittsburgh, have done so anyway -- but they can use zoning codes to dictate where and how that drilling will take place (see Shale Daily, Nov. 17, 2010).
Over the past year, locals across Marcellus Shale country in Pennsylvania have packed into council chambers for public hearings on proposed zoning ordinances, discussing issues like set-backs, well-pad sizes, road bonding and where to locate compressor stations.
State Sen. Gene Yaw, a Republican who represents the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania where drilling is heaviest, proposed legislation that would let municipalities assess producing wells for property taxes, a way to keep tax revenues local (see Shale Daily, Jan. 31).
At hearings in late January, local officials discussed road maintenance, emergency management, property values and and tax bases, but Lou D'Amico, president of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, raised concerns about how the unique structure of local government in Pennsylvania could impact natural gas development.
"We cannot deal with 2,500 local ordinances, different fees, or different standards," he said.
The local perspective will have a voice in upcoming statewide policy discussions, though, because Gov. Tom Corbett named David Sanko, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, to his Marcellus Shale Advisory Committee.
That 30-member committee is scheduled to have its first meeting on Friday (March 25).