Some were for Marcellus Shale gas drilling, and others weren’t. But it was clear on Tuesday night that none present at a town hall meeting in Pittsburgh’s South Hills area supported a combined Pennsylvania House and Senate bill that would allow drilling in all municipal zones.
Noting concern for the rights of citizens and an interest in keeping the power to make decisions about where Marcellus Shale drilling can take place, local lawmakers from 40 different western Pennsylvania municipalities showed up at a packed meeting in Green Tree Borough with the hopes of halting progress of the bill, which combines House Bill 1950 and Senate Bill 1100.
Both bills propose to amend Title 58, the state’s Oil and Gas Act.
The local lawmakers present at the Green Tree Municipal Complex, representing six or seven counties and more than 40 individual communities, oppose the bill. They say that it would take away the rights of local governments to establish zoning that protects the property and character of their communities.
Officials from Robinson Township (Washington County), South Fayette Township, Murrysville, Cecil Township and several other areas discussed their views.
“One use for all as proposed by these two state laws is not the answer,” Peters Township Councilman David Ball said.
Currently, local municipal leaders are able to say where gas drilling can take place and exert some control over how it is done. For example, Baldwin Borough officials have banned natural gas drilling in their municipality, and Whitehall Borough officials have restricted drilling to specific areas.
The proposed bill discussed on Tuesday would put into place statewide regulations that would take the place of those individual regulations.
Officials expressed concern on Tuesday over whether the bill would prevent them from being able to carry out what those in their communities want.
“It’s the governed that runs the place, not the elected,” Ball said. “We are best positioned to understand where this position comes from and where it should be applied.”
A number of those present in Green Tree described the bill as unconstitutional and said that it takes away the power of local governments.
“We hope for people to awaken to what is really happening in local government,” said Michele Bertini, a Butler County resident.
“There’s a potential to lose their power to govern local municipalities. Right now, it can be for the oil and gas industry, but this could be a precedent.”
As for passing the bill, Robinson Township Manager Richard Ward described the time as being not midnight but close to it.
While those present were urged to contact lawmakers in Harrisburg in the hopes of tabling the bill until it could be discussed with those at the local level, the bill could pass as soon as Wednesday.
If it does, the matter could go to court, Ward said.
He hopes that opposition to the bill gains support not only in western Pennsylvania but across the state.