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Zoning rule to focus on gas industry

September 17, 2010

A zoning ordinance that governs the gas industry in Lycoming County could be in effect by November, but its scope will be limited to activities not regulated at the state and federal levels.

"Locally, you can't regulate the 'how,' but you can regulate the 'where,' " county Department of Planning and Community Development Director Kurt Hausammann Jr. said Thursday following a county Planning Commission meeting.

The commission agreed to distribute a draft of the ordinance to the 18 municipalities that are part of the county zoning partnership and other interested non-partnership communities.

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The municipalities will have 30 days to submit comments about the ordinance, and county planning staff will look to incorporate those comments into the ordinance, Hausammann said.

The ordinance then will be sent to the county commissioners for approval in November, he said.

The zoning partnership includes rural municipalities that have agreed to be placed under a county zoning ordinance.

If a municipality had its own zoning ordinance, it would have to provide for all types of zoning uses. The partnership allows specific municipalities to have limited zoning uses as long as all uses are available somewhere within the partnership.

Hausammann said the ordinance is the culmination of about two years of work, including a four-month period where planing staff worked with gas industry representatives to craft a fair ordinance that promotes gas development while protecting the quality of life in the county.

Hausammann said he is confident the ordinance "strikes a balance" that is fair to the industry and protects county residents.

The ordinance focuses on land use and not the actual extraction of oil or gas, said county Development Services Supervisor Clifford Kanz.

It will not circumvent any state or federal laws related to the oil and gas industry, he said.

According to a draft copy of the ordinance, the ordinance only will apply to oil and gas sites developed after it is adopted or existing sites that have been materially altered in size, type, location, number of wells or other accessory equipment.

For a zoning permit to be issued to a gas company, the ordinance requires the county receive from it a narrative providing the approximate number of acres that will be disturbed, the proposed number of wells to be drilled on the land and a description of how the company will address damage to nearby public roads.

The company also must submit a 911 site address for emergency responders, copies of permits issued by state regulating agencies and copies of letters notifying local municipal governments of its intent to seek a zoning permit.

The ordinance will not allow a permit to be issued for any well to be drilled within any floodway identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

It requires all oil and gas activities to follow federal and state safety standards, the use of clearly visible warning signs during drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations and security measures to be implemented that prevents access by unauthorized individuals.

The ordinance requires a well bore to be located a minimum 200-foot setback distance from any scenic road, state designated trailhead, boat or canoe launch, major trail such as the Loyalsock Trail or Pine Creek Rail Trail, designated scenic overlooks, national or state-recognized historic places, any right of way line of any public or private road, and the property line of publicly owned land.

The ordinance also addresses interference with radio, telephone and similar signals and forbids the impairment of county emergency communications systems by oil and gas development activities.

It addresses compressor and metering stations, water reuse storage facilities, staging facilities and noise standards.

Kanz said the ordinance is important because all of the municipalities in the partnership are within the Marcellus Shale.

According to Kanz, requiring zoning permits for drilling operations and other related activities will allow county government to have a better handle on what is happening in the county.

"It has to do with the public's health, safety and welfare," Kanz said.

Kanz said Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Range Resources and Chief Oil and Gas provided input into the ordinance.

Mary B. Wolf, a former city mayor who now represents Anadarko, said her company and others participating in the process appreciated the opportunity to help craft a fair ordinance.

Wolf said she has a much better understanding of issues related to floodplains and flooding than she did previous to discussions with county staff.

"I think you are going to find you have a model for other counties in the commonwealth," she said of the ordinance.



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