Saturday, January 9, 2010

Greenfield Twp. says gas driller violated zoning ordinance and must stop

GREENFIELD TWP. - The host municipality of the first and only Marcellus Shale natural gas well drilled in Lackawanna County has told the gas exploration company that it violated the township's zoning ordinance and must stop all drilling operations on the site.

Greenfield Twp. issued the violation notice on Tuesday to Exco Resources (PA) Inc., formerly Exco-North Coast Energy Resources, after receiving a complaint from a township resident in December.

The well site is located on a parcel adjacent to the Skyline Golf Course on Route 247 in an area zoned commercial recreation. Township supervisor Joseph Slebodnik said gas drilling is not an allowable use in that zone. Gas drilling is a conditional use in Greenfield's rural agricultural zones, which make up about 80 percent of the township, and industrial districts, he said.

Some township zoning maps mistakenly label the plot where the Skyline well was drilled as rural agricultural, he said, which might have caused some confusion.

"Evidently they didn't check into it far enough," he said.

Efforts to reach the president of Exco's Pennsylvania operations Friday evening were unsuccessful.

Exco received a well permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection in August and drilled the well in late September and October.

Township zoning officer Paul Fortuner said the township did not act earlier on the zoning violation because it did not know it could have a say on gas development within its borders.

The state law that governs gas drilling, the Oil and Gas Act, explicitly pre-empts local municipalities from regulating anything already outlined in the law, including how far wells must be from structures and water sources.

But the state Supreme Court found for the first time in February that local municipalities can regulate where gas wells are located through zoning ordinances.

"Originally we weren't a part of the loop at all. We had no way of restricting it at all," Mr. Fortuner said. "Now they gave us that little bit."

Exco has 30 days to appeal the violation notice to the township's zoning hearing board.


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