On Wednesday night (9/9/15) the Supervisors of Newtown Township took the lead in passing a resolution supporting a permanent ban on fracking in the Delaware Basin. That’s big, even thought it doesn’t of itself prevent drilling and fracking. Because Pennsylvania is a Commonwealth, the state legislature is in charge of granting permission for shale gas extraction and individual municipalities can only choose where withing their borders to allow it.
Other townships are expected to follow Newtown in enacting similar resolutions. Although the Supervisors can’t ban fracking, their resolution gives gravitas to public sentiment against fracking and the environmental and health impacts it causes. State legislators recognize that the same voters who elect municipal politicians also elect them. It will be hard for them to yield to pressure from the shale gas lobby knowing that their constituents do not support fracking.
Those of us who are working on this issue know that passage of this resolution is only an early milestone in each town’s effort to gird itself against exploitation. The effort to preserve its water, air, and environment will take many forms. Later this month the Delaware Riverkeeper Network will release a guidebook for municipalities that contains language for crafting strategic zoning. We agree that it’s prudent to have proper zoning enacted in the event that the moratoriums are ultimately lifted. Though we hope they will never be necessary, we recognize that it takes time to craft enforceable regulations. To that end the guidebook will help local solicitors who may be unfamiliar with the nuances and hazards of shale gas exploration.
To protect water and air, it is necessary to establish baselines for existing levels of methane and other pollutants. A favorite dodge of drillers who create leaky wells is to say, “That methane was present before we drilled.” Fortunately there are effective means to collect baseline data before a well is begun. The knowledge that baseline data exisits may, of itself, deter drilling. Drillers play the odds, and they know that one or two out of every twenty wells leaks in the first five years. When baselines exist enforcement action is likely to be costly.
Towns can also zone pipelines. Since dedicated pipelines are needed to get the “wet” gas to processing facilities, and from there to market, it’s just as important to zone and regulate them as it is to plan for wells.
It is regrettable that locals can’t depend on the state or federal regulators for protection. Only outright bans like those enacted in New York State and Maryland seem to keep the menace at bay. So, while we work to create the political will to ban fracking at the state level, we also seek to get resolutions and zoning ordinances that show unity of purpose and establish formidable accountability standards at the municipal level.
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