North East Township Supervisors moved ahead with a two-pronged approach to lessening the impact of oil and gas well drilling on the township at their May 16 meeting.
Supervisors agreed to move forward with a new ordinance prohibiting the use and injection of hazardous chemicals in the oil or gas well process typically known as hydrofracking.
They also agreed to adopt new zoning regulations for governing wells drilled in the township.
The chemical ban proposal was drafted by the township solicitor after residents petitioned to have hydraulic fracturing banned in the township and presented a sample ordinance. Supervisors opted to not use the sample, Supervisor Dennis Culver said, because it addressed issues other than hydrofracking.
“Hydrofracking is the issue. We address that issue and that issue only,” he said.
“I believe the zoning is what is defensible (in court),” Solicitor Robert Jeffery said. “This is drafted to eliminate provisions that have been overturned and I’ve cited provisions of the Second Class Township code in support.”
The proposal sets penalties at the maximums permitted by law in Pennsylvania’s Second Class Townships such as North East.
These are set at the same limits of $600 per day for civil cases and $1,000 per day in criminal cases are cited in the draft ordinance submitted last month by petitioners, supervisors pointed out when residents said that the fines are too low. The ordinance, which is to be reviewed by township and Erie County planners, also allows filing for an injunction to keep drillers from using hazardous chemicals.
The regulation can be extended for another year if the state has not addressed drilling issues before expiration, supervisors said.
The ordinance will now be advertised and can then be adopted at a board meeting in June. The regulations take effect immediately once adopted. “There is no grandfathering in,” Jeffery said. “Once adopted it applies whether any permit has been issued or not.”
Resident Bob Mazza commended the board for taking action. “We understand there are risks, but this is one of the things we have to risk. I don’t see any reason why (the township) shouldn’t take a leadership position.”
Borough resident Lisa Gensheimer mentioned a recent study done by Duke University regarding methane gas migration as an issue that should be addressed as well and asked supervisors to work with an advisory committee of experts. No action was taken on that suggestion.
Other residents expressed concern about air quality issues, which are governed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and how the ordinance may be enforced.
Supervisors noted that the township’s emergency management coordinator is supervising and has copies of the Material Safety Data Sheets for compounds used.
In a related matter, the board also agreed to proceed with amendments to the township zoning ordinance dealing with drilling.
“We’ve placed additional controls without violating Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Law,” Jeffery told supervisors. “Other options have been shot down by both state and federal (court) decisions. Banning ordinances have been shot down repeatedly.”
Revisions include all the conditions attached to recently approved gas well conditional use permits, such as increased setbacks from protected structures, property lines, and roads.
These include that drilling rigs be located 500 feet from existing buildings in all districts up from the current setbacks of 200 feet. Compressors are proposed to remain 1,000 feet from occupied buildings and setbacks from roads could double from 50 to 100 feet.
Changes for private shallow wells are not currently under consideration, though the new regulations would apply if shallow wells are drilled by commercial entities.
Other provisions under discussion include: allowing emergency responders access to the site; preserving as much vegetation on the site as possible; setting time limits for site preparation and requiring pre-drilling water test results be given to property owners.
Limiting compressor installations and perhaps storage wells to industrial areas is still under consideration.
In another matter, supervisors agreed to begin the adoption process for proposed zoning ordinance changes affecting people wishing to use travel trailers/campers parked on private property.
The changes include: limiting camper use to parcels of over one acre with a dwelling located on it; limiting temporary occupancy to 14 days per year; and requiring the trailer to have a self-contained sewage system.
Also included is a permit system. Campers would apply for a permit at the township building for the number of days desired, pay their fee and post the permit in the camper’s window.
Existing campers who have obtained conditional use permits would not be affected by the proposed changes.
Residents may still store a camper on their property, but couldn’t use it unless they have at least an acre of land. Any township subdivision which has more restrictive regulations would be allowed to enforce those.
A public hearing on the rezoning of 9260 West Main Road, the Roy-El Motel property, from agricultural to commercial drew no comment from the public. To avoid spot zoning, supervisors agreed to speak with adjacent businesses to see if they would also like to officially rezone to commercial. “That is consistent with our comprehensive plan,” Supervisor Vernon Frye said.
Resident Jack Paschke and his attorney Ritchie Marsh, asked supervisors to address the proliferation of fireworks stores at the Route 20 and I-90 interchange.
The township offices and garage will be closed Monday, May 30, for Memorial Day.
The supervisors set their next meeting for Monday, June 6, at 7:30 p.m. Planners will meet the same day at 7 p.m.