Business requires some level of regulatory certainty to be successful.   Shifting rules and patchwork guidelines create costly and time-consuming challenges for entrepreneurs who have enough to worry about with the rigors of the free market.

Last week, the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court threw the Marcellus Shale gas drilling industry into the ultimate regulatory maelstrom with its 4-2 decision to throw out parts of Act 13, the Commonwealth’s comprehensive oil and gas industry regulation.

One critical part of the court’s decision gives municipal governments primacy over state regulations on drilling, meaning each town can adopt its own set of zoning rules for the industry.   That’s a regulatory morass for the industry, but one they’ve had to adjust to anyway while the case was working its way through the courts.

Marcellus Drilling News, an industry newsletter, said, “there are some towns with boards packed with anti-drillers that will make drilling so miserable in that area… that drillers will likely just leave them alone.  Landowners lose out, local businesses lose out and taxpayers will certainly lose out.”

But those who have been fighting to preserve local control and limit drilling are hailing the court’s decision.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quotes Deron Gabriel, Commission President of South Fayette in Allegheny County, as saying it’s a victory.

“Preserving zoning is vital to local planning efforts in order to keep industrial activity out of residential and commercial areas,” Gabriel told the Post-Gazette.  “Now we can keep industrial activities away from our schools and residences, and there has been more and more of a push to locate closer to residential areas.”

It’s possible that the Pennsylvania Legislature overreached last year with Act 13, setting up a push back from communities that are justifiably concerned about heavy industrial activity in their areas.  However, now the pendulum could swing back too far the other way, as drilling opponents use the decision to try to drive the industry out of the state.

In West Virginia, we have some of the same fights over drilling, but we have managed to avoid the kind of regulatory confusion they’re having in Pennsylvania.  In 2011, the Legislature passed a comprehensive gas drilling law that provides consistency for drillers, but also protections for citizens and property owners.

When the City of Morgantown passed an ordinance banning hydraulic fracturing within one mile of the city limits, Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Susan Tucker wisely struck it down.  The Judge determined that a municipality could not adopt an ordinance that trumped the regulatory authority of the state Division of Environmental Protection.

Drillers in Pennsylvania may be able to maneuver their way through myriad regulations left in place (and soon to be expanded thanks to the state Supreme Court’s decision).  After all, drillers are going to follow the gas.

However, some of those operations may look now to West Virginia, which also sits on top of giant Marcellus Shale reserves. At least here, they know what the rules are.




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  • WVSon

    I suspect there will come a day when fracking turns out to be the most costly ecological disaster the US will have faced thus far. Why? Because everyone subsisting on well or spring water will find their sources contaminated. Municipalities will be forced to build water distribution systems they have no funds to build.

  • clearanceman

    We better be getting some money from this drilling as a state. After letting coal rape this state, so many streams are still destroyed from acid mine run off. I hope adequate profits offset our tradition of sending profits out of state and leaving a big environmental mess. Didn't a slurry pond collapse just a couple years ago? This is 2013.

  • MT

    The chemicals used in fracking are TOXIC!!!!
    I know this because my family has many acres that have wells drilled, and the drillers have told my family members that the chemicals used are TOXIC.

    REDNECK learn some chemistry it help you become more informed.

    Companies get away with it for now because of the war on coal by the bama admin. EPA is desperate to end the use of coal as we now it today.

    I am for coal and nat gas or whatever for energy
    however we all need to take a stand against the gov picking winners and losers by regulation.

  • RockJockPA

    The biggest battle is between the "Haves" who have oil and gas rights and want to develop it to provide financial security for their families vs. the "Have Nots" who will not get royalty payments nor directly benefit from drilling.

    The test for the municipalities in PA will be how to protect the private property rights of those who want to develop without enforcing defacto bans on development.

  • Stormin

    Look at what growing Corn is doing to this country, and around the World for that matter.
    People are starving to death high cost of Food but Worst then that is the environment.
    The pesticides run off are killing fish and wild life down stream of drinking water for Humans.
    the Ocean for 200-300 miles is green with Toxic poison No Fish for miles been going on for years it is High Time for Nat Gas Drilling.

  • Dave, just Dave.

    I'm sorry Hoppy, but those protections for citizens and property owners are a joke. The rule is still gas drilling does what they want at everyone's expense.

  • Fairport

    I am a liberal democrat excepting abortion. But I say drill, drill drill. Our country is going to bust at the seems in years to come. We will have and always have had accidents involving the acquisition of natural resources.

  • David Kennedy

    When West Virginia made it tough on the drilling companies about two years ago, those companies shifted their work to Ohio and the Dakota's.
    Now, (already) we have a glut of gas into the system and the exploration, drilling and delivery of the new gas is slowed down considerably.
    West Virginia will be the last state to see the expansion of these money producing fields.
    Leases are not being worked on and left to expire.
    Being a 'day late into the game will mean becoming a 'dollar short later.
    One company official from Texas told me this, "Things are different in West most other states, we are not asked for bribes.?

  • Don Jr.

    If the town has the right to zone the rest of us, it certainly should have the right to zone these fracking wells.
    Generally, I'm against zoning and over-regulation and government interference altogether. However, this is one of the few cases when regulation is in order. Our fresh drinking water must be preserved.

  • Joe

    I'm not sure if some of you know who exactly runs and "oversees" the shale industry, but I assure you it is not the boy scouts.

  • Aaron

    It's interesting that liberal posters arguing against natural gas had no problem using natural gas as a primary reason for not only the decline of coal but as a primary argument in the elimination of coal mining.

    I said then that when the issue was gas extraction and fracking, these same types of individuals would have no problem turning their liberal bias against the natural gas industry.

    From the comments below, it appears I am right.

    • JoJo

      I don't think that those "types of individuals" are against the gas industry. I think they are against the gas industry, or any other industry, not playing by the rules. And even you would agree (I'm guessing here) that when someone breaks the rules, it just isn't fair. Doesn't mean you hate the person, people just think it's unfair not to play by the rules. Although you may not care.

      • Aaron

        How did Arch Coal break the rules at Spruce #1? How about AEP playing by the rules in in proposing 2 new power plants that would actually reduce emissions in shutting down 6 other aging power plants only to be bombarded by lawsuits and regulatory agency hoops meant to "bankrupt" the industry? Is that the rules you are referring to?

        I have no problem with playing by the rules but they should be fair to all stakeholders, don't you agree?

        • JoJo

          Yes I do agree. Let me ask you a you think Massey played by the rules at UBB?

          • Aaron

            By and large, liberals tend to oppose fossil fuels while conservatives tend to support them. I don't think anyone can deny that simple fact.

          • JoJo

            Actually, I do agree with your argument that MSHA and Washington are to blame too. But I was addressing your original premise that the problem is a liberal vs conservative situation. I don't think it is at all. My point is that both sides do not have a lock on the right point of view on any subject. Just sayin'.

          • Aaron

            No. Which is why I've said from day one that higher ups in MSHA, including those in Washington should share a cell with Blankenship and members of the board.

            But it's been my experience that those who want to blame Blankenship for skirting the rules far too often apologize for government officials who allow it.

            Those crimes require participation by both sides to be committed, not just one and until you punish both sides, it's not going to stop.

  • jake

    The toxic brine water that gets hauled and pumped under pressure into the ground in braxton county defies logic will never get me to believe this practice is harmless .Whats braxton county get out of it? Nothing ,other than that toxic dump down by elk river and a small earthquake every now and then....AND A FEW LESS COAL JOBS . TAX AND REGULATE THE HECK OUT OF THEM ,BRAXTON COUNTY...or let them deal with this aftereffect where they created it

    • WV Redneck

      There is nothing "toxic" in that water. It came from the ground and is called condinsate. It becomes briney due to the fact it collects in the "rat hole" as it's called at the bottom of the well some 3 to 8 thousand feet below the surface depending on the well depth. This is were it mix's with salt deposits also.

      It is brought up primarily by a Well Tender who drops soap sticks down the well that forms suds and is carried out of the well to a separator and then into a holding tank by the gas. Once collected it is usually bleached and taken to a collection point where it is allowed to settle out and the pure water is take off the bottom, filtered and then put back down into a deep well.

      It is by far in better condition than when it came out. It would taste nasty due to the salt content but it wouldn't hurt you.

      Get your facts straight before you post stuff you don't know anything about ok.

      • Shadow

        You bring up the issue of Brine Water. I have always wondered why the salt that is put on the roads in the Winter is not called a pollutant by the EPA as it destroys the quality of the water and surround soil. If you would compare what amount of salt that is brought up by fracking and what is used for snow removal, fracking would be a very small percentage and very localized while snow removal is all over the State. Much ado about nothing in the amount from fracking. Snow, potentially a lot of damage over the years.

      • Jason412

        @WV Redneck
        "Some Allegheny County Council members, startled by headlines showing energy giant Range Resources may be willing to pay nearly $75 million to drill in a county park"

        "Range representatives confirmed they have offered Allegheny County $3.5 million up front and as much as $70 million in royalties over the next 30 years to drill under Deer Lakes Park, a 1,180-acre expanse straddling Frazer and West Deer."
        Are county parks private property? BS like this is why PA voted for stronger regulations.

        You clearly have been brainwashed by the company you or someone you know works for. It doesnt surprise me you dont understand more than what you're told to understand, but dont repeat it like its based in fact

        It may have started on private property, but it certainly wont end there.

        • WV Redneck

          The parks themselves are state property but obviously someone else owns the mineral rights and by long standing laws regarding such they have the right to extract it.

          Go look at Chief Logan Park in Logan county if you are worried about the outcome. The footprint is very small and there have been no ecological issues even though the wells have been there for decades.

          Besides, a park is not your back yard or behind the school etc. The people running these company's aren't stupid guys. Their not going to invite trouble by drilling in such places.

      • jason

        Every single sentence you posted has at least one glaring inaccuracy.

        • WV Redneck

          Actually, no it doesn't. It's exactly how it's done, why and the results. Believe what you will but the facts are the facts.

          • WV Redneck

            Aaron, your exactly right. I've been trying to be nice and to help him educate himself but it seems when he goes out on the net looking for something to come back with all he's looking for is anything he can find that is bad and things simply aren't done the way he says and I don't know about him but I do work in the industry and have for many years and if they were doing anything to harm anyone or the environment I would be one of the first to sound the alarm. My company simply will not allow or put up with it and I think that's great.

            He wrote about using biocides and flocculants lol, no way that came from someone in the field and not off the net. It wasn't even his own words and it's obvious. It just isn't done like that.

            The bleach kills bactiera. When a vac truck comes to emptie a tank, if it's the normal condensate/brine he puts in a couple gallons of bleach first as it kills the bactiera and will cause the crap to fall out of the water. The water is usually black in this case but not always. Then takes it to the storage point and re-tanks it where what I said before is done. Well tenders will also put bleach in a well to control this bactiera as it can interfear with well production.

            And by the way Jason, chlorides are salts bud.

          • Aaron

            If you work for the largest Energy and Production company in Appalachia Jason then why are you fabricating facts regarding the industry. I'm not trying to defend drilling but I know a great many of your comments are inaccurate at best. If you oppose it then why lie and why continue to work in the industry?:

          • jason

            I've been working in production for the largest E &P company in the Appalachian Basin for the past 10 years. That's where my info comes from. When guys like you try to defend our industry by saying crap like "there's nothing toxic in that water" and "cheap non-toxic bleach does the job", you give ammo to the anti-energy nuts. Stick with well tending.

          • Shadow

            I read that the green material just beneath a potato skin is poisonous but people haven't stopped eating potato skins. The moral being: we don't know what we have been raised on as it is only in the last 50 years have we had techniques that will allow us to identify and measure to a high degree of accuracy. A good example of this is Global warming: measuring for years temperature at plus or minus one degree and then using it to predict to tenths.

          • WV Redneck

            Oh and by the way, a well with just 10 to 15 pounds of "formation pressure" can lift the soap and a well with all kinds of "formation pressure" can and will be choked off by water if no soap is used.

            On low pressure wells like most here in WV you drop a soap stick or two and shut the well in for hours or even a day or two and let it rock up. Then open it and it will bring the fluid. If there's soap in it. If not, in both cases very little if any will come up unless your up in PA where the well head pressures often exceed 700 psi.

            If you can't get the water up that way they bring in a swab rig to pull the water out.

          • WV Redneck

            Again Jason you are mis-informed. Anyone can go on the net and pull out things you do. The two chemicals you mention are toxic in large amounts and also expensive which is why bleach is usually used. Cheap, non-toxic and does the job.

            Condensate is the fluid in the wells and pipelines and is composed mostly of water. It easily separates from the water upon standing. Like most everything else does and as I said the water is drained off the bottom and then filtered. The other fluids referred to as drip gas and crude oil is valuable and are collected and sold. Not pumped back down into the ground.

            These aren't water treatment plants Jason, they don't use water treatment facility technology to treat the water as you described.

            Flocculants lol

            Take an aspirin bud

          • jason

            1) HCl and biocide are toxic. They are supposed to be. Biocide is added to completion fluids to eliminate the growth of unwated bacteria in the wellbore and the formation. HCl, or a similar acid, is added to aid in the fracturing process. Drink either one and you're in for a bad night.
            2) "Condensate" is composed of heavier hydrocarbons(C2-C8, i think) that are often found along with methane (CH4) in gas bearing formations. The term has nothing to do with produced water.
            3) Produced water is naturally high in TDS, TSS, chlorides, ORM's and some metals as a result of being in contact with the shale reservoir, not a s a result of "mix(ing) with salt deposits."
            4) Soaping is only done in older wells that have lost much of their initial formation pressure and can no longer lift wellbore fluids on their own.
            5) No operators "bleach" their produced water.
            6) You have the process of flocculation completely backwards. Flocculant is added, precipitates form and settle out, clear water is decanted off the top.
            7) I'm sure there are some more up there, but reading your post over and over is giving me a headache