In a state with 10,000 fracking wells, and more pipelines and fossil fuel infrastructure in the works, can the drilling industry be stopped in Pennsylvania by local leaders enforcing local regulations?
Early this month, Food & Water Watch sponsored a conference in Pittsburgh to discuss fracking and zoning laws in Allegheny County's 130 municipalities. Expert panels covered a range of topics, including mapping leases, public health, community planning, and municipal zoning law.
The focus of the conference--"Fracking in Your Local Community: Your Rights and Municipal Responsibilities"-- was to examine how local governments can best utilize zoning law to protect communities from the harms posed by fracking. A review of zoning codes in the county reveals that many communities here do not even have zoning ordinances that govern where oil and gas operations can take place. And many of the existing zoning ordinances are out of date, or possibly not compliant with recent state court decisions.
The conference was part of a new Food & Water Watch initiative called the Municipal Ordinance Project (MOP). It is designed to work with and support communities in their efforts to increase community planning capacity, and to promote the development of protective zoning ordinances.
It’s important for Allegheny County to examine this issue right now. While surrounding counties have experienced significant fracking campaigns, Allegheny County's more densely populated communities have experienced relatively little of this harmful industrial activity. However, based upon current leasing trends and market conditions, it's only a matter of time before Allegheny County begins to see a substantial increase in fracking activity.
Our recent survey of county officials showed there is strong support for making drilling decisions at the local level. And local officials overwhelmingly responded by saying that safety and environmental concerns with potential shale gas extraction within their jurisdictions were most important factors for them in crafting responsible zoning regulations.
With state officials pushing hard to expand fracking and build more pipeline capacity, the resistance to dirty fossil fuels will have to be led by local officials who are more concerned with protecting their communities than boosting corporate profits.
Doug Shields is the Western Pennsylvania Outreach Liaison for Food & Water Watch. To find out more about the MOP Project, email him at [email protected].