Morgantown council votes to restrict drilling

MORGANTOWN (AP) — The Morgantown City Council has voted to limit gas drilling to 600 acres surrounding the city’s airport.

According to media reports, the council on Tuesday unanimously approved six zoning ordinances restricting all mining and drilling to designated industrial zones around the Morgantown Municipal Airport.

The city last summer tried to ban shale-gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing within its borders and up to a mile beyond, but a few weeks later a judge ruled that the city had overstepped its authority. Monongalia County Circuit Judge Susan Tucker rejected arguments that home-rule provisions gave the city the power to protect its citizens and environment, ruling that the state Department of Environmental Protection has sole authority for regulating oil and gas operations.

With the zoning restrictions now on the books, the council voted Tuesday night to repeal the 2011 law.

Drilling became a concern after Northeast Natural Energy began sinking two wells in the Morgantown Industrial Park, above the Monongahela River and about a mile from a drinking water intake. The site is just beyond the city limits.

City officials, frustrated at the time by the failure of state lawmakers to pass tougher regulations on the rapidly growing industry, passed the ban. Northeast sued and won.

In all, four West Virginia communities tried to ban drilling in 2011. Wellsburg and New Martinsville repealed their ordinances under pressure from industry and business owners who benefit. Lewisburg’s ordinance has not been challenged because no one is drilling there.

According to Morgantown’s new zoning laws, drilling sites must 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.

The West Virginia Sierra Club supported the ordinances, but industry spokesman Corky DeMarco has said they might be challenged in court.

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