Monday, May 2, 2011

Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens Group Comments on Oil & Gas Ordinance to be used as a Model

Comments on the Westmoreland County Draft Model Zoning Ordinance Amendment For Oil And Gas Exploration

Submitted by Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens Group

April 20, 2011

The Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens Group submits the following comments on the Westmoreland County Draft Model Zoning Ordinance Amendment for Oil and Gas Exploration.

Specific Comments

1.      Section 3.A: This section should be amended to more clearly prohibit any oil and gas activities (e.g. oil or gas well site, natural gas compressor station, natural gas processing plant or similar facilities performing the equivalent functions) in all residential and commercially zoned districts. For all other zoning districts (e.g. industrial or heavy industrial), an oil or gas well site, natural gas compressor station, natural gas processing plant or any similar facilities performing the equivalent functions should be considered a conditional use subject to conditional use restrictions.

Therefore, Section 3.B and 3.C should be eliminated.

2.      Section 4.A:   The grandfather clause should apply only to permitting requirements.   Drilling operations should comply with all other requirements of the ordinance.

3.      Section 5: Public notice of any permit application or amendment should be published in a local newspaper.

4.      Section 7:  There are two section 7s in the model ordinance. This typographical error should be corrected.

5.      Section 7 (Permit Application):

·        The entire permit application should be publicly available on a county website.

·        Water management plans should be included among the documents that must be included as part of the permit application.

6.      Section 7(Procedure):  

·        In Section 7.A, the draft model ordinance should require a permit for seismic testing. Seismic testing should not be permitted in residential areas.

·        In Section 7.A, installation of gathering and transmission pipelines should require a zoning permit.

·        In Section, 7.C,  the model ordinance should not provide that,  “consideration may be given to create a streamlined process.”   All permits should be considered independently through the conditional- use process.

7.      Section 8   (Setbacks/Location): 

·        In Section 8.C, Paragraph 3 should be revised as follows:  “Operator shall locate its temporary and permanent operations so as to minimize interference with (municipality) residents’ enjoyment of their property and future (municipality) development activities as authorized by the (municipality) applicable ordinances.” 

·        In Section 8.E(1),  motion detector sensors should be required so that light pollution can be avoided at night.

·        In Section 8.G,  the proposed ordinance should provide protection for public and private schools, hospitals, day care centers, and senior citizens centers by providing that well sites may not be located within  2500 feet of these facilities.
·        In Section 8.G, the proposed ordinance should provide that well sites may not be located within 1500 feet of a wetland.

·        Section 8 should include other protective features at the site area. For example, there is no provision for locks to be located on valves, fencing around wellheads or bird netting to be used at frack water ponds.  These features should be added to the ordinance.

In addition, Section 8 should expressly state that there will be no waivers of these locations standards.

Additional Comments

1.         Westmoreland County is presently not in attainment for air quality. Allegheny County Department of Health has issued a public statement explaining that they will enforce air standards more stringent than those of the DEP to protect county residents. The following green technology is available and should be instituted to prevent enormous amounts of air emissions from gas processing facilities from further deteriorating Westmoreland county air and public health.  Compressor stations, condensate tanks, and processing systems will remain in county communities for years to come.

Air regulations should be included in a separate zoning ordinance and should require:

·        Green well completion which protects citizens from toxins emitted during one of the most polluting phases of the drilling process.
·        Electric motors/engines for compressors and other power equipment.
·        Vapor recovery systems on compressors, condensate tanks, processing and distillation units.
·        No -bleed valves to prevent fugitive emissions.
·        Independent monitoring of compressors, condensate tanks, and processing facilities.
2.         The draft zoning ordinance contains no cumulative impact study on water withdrawal within the county, and there is no method to control the environmental toll that natural gas drilling and water depletion will take on the land and streams. The draft ordinance should be revised to address this issue.
3.         The draft model ordinance does not require environmental studies to be performed prior to drilling activities to ensure preservation of air, ground water, and roads. The following studies should be conducted by a third party and paid for by drilling companies:

·        Ambient air study
·        Ground water study
·        Noise study
·        Road survey
·        Lighting evaluation
·        Environmental impact analysis

4.         The draft ordinance does not address chemical leakage.   Drip pans and other containment devices should be placed or installed underneath all tanks, containers, pumps, lubricating oil systems, engines, fuel and chemical storage tanks system valves, connections, and any other areas or structures that could potentially leak, discharge, or spill hazardous liquids. The operator should be responsible for prevention and prompt removal of spills involving waste materials, oil and toxic or hazardous materials.
5.         The draft ordinance does not provide for municipalities to have the right to inspect drill sites to ensure that conditions are being met. The draft should be revised to provide for such inspections.

 6.         There are no spacing requirements for the thousands of wells expected to be drilled, and thus no limit on how many wells can be drilled and how close they can be to each other.  The draft should be revised to address this issue.

 7.         The proposed ordinance does not address the wastewater treatment standards for all of the specific constituents of gas drilling wastewater. The draft should be revised to address this issue.

 8.         Finally, it should be noted that the Westmoreland County Draft Model Zoning Ordinance does not address the need for restrictions to be enacted in those townships having no zoning code. Nuisance regulations should be included for those areas.