Morgantown Moves to Limit Drilling Within the City, Final Vote on July 3rd

by Duane Nichols on June 7, 2012

In the State Journal, Cynthia McCloud has described the June 5th actions of the Morgantown City Council to place limits on drilling and fracking within the city limits by a vote of 7 to 0.  Council members also repealed, on a 6-1 vote, a horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing ban that Monongalia County Circuit Court overturned last year. Councilman Bill Byrne cast the no vote because, he said, he didn’t want to remove the ban before new zoning laws were on the books.

If the ordinances pass the second reading and final vote during the July 3 City Council meeting, drilling will be allowed within city limits only at the industrial zone that includes the Morgantown Airport and, for research purposes, on property owned by West Virginia University.

“We cannot utilize our zoning regulations in West Virginia to exclude any type of land use,” said Christopher Fletcher, Morgantown’s Director of Development Services. “In fact, it’s the exact opposite. We have to find places in the municipality for all land uses and development to occur.” 

The best places in Morgantown for extractive drilling to occur are its six industrial districts. But those industrial districts can contain an extractive industry site only if it is 625 feet from any residential areas, schools, day care facilities, hospitals, churches or parks. Sites also have to be 100 feet from the floodplain, 1,000 feet from the public water supply intake and 1,000 feet from the floodplain of the Monongahela River south or upstream of the Morgantown Lock and Dam.

“Most of our industrial districts are along the river, are along creeks and other bodies of water. What the state required was 100 feet from a creek or water body or a river or wetland,” he said. “The state code did not provide some direction on where you measure from. The high water mark, the average water mark? There’s no additional information that we need to get an accurate measurement. What we thought the best approach to be in an urban environment is to use the floodplain that is delineated on floodplain maps. Water isn’t flowing in those areas but during flood events, we wanted to protect those sensitive areas.”

When the setbacks are taken into account, the only district suitable for drilling is the one that is surrounded by airport property. Certain conditions will be placed on the operation focusing on security; noise, exhaust and dust control; secondary containment; spill reporting; flaring restrictions, including public notice; waste management and disposal; maintenance, clean-up and restoration.

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