Morgantown Reconsiders Gas Drilling Strategy

Last week, a court ruling invalidated the ban on horizontal drilling with fracking that the city of Morgantown enacted in June. The city's weighing its options after the judgment. Itís been a busy summer for Morgantown officials and residents closely following the developments of gas drilling. Ben Adduchio with West Virginia Public Radio has more.

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Last week, a court ruling invalidated the ban on horizontal drilling with fracking that the city of Morgantown enacted in June. The city's weighing its options after the judgment.

It's been a busy summer for Morgantown officials and residents closely following the developments of gas drilling.

In May, Northeast Natural Energy began sinking two wells at the Morgantown Industrial Park, only a few thousand feet from a public water intake.

In June, the city adopted an ordinance banning horizontal drilling with fracking up to a mile from city limits.

Now that ban has been invalidated by a Monongalia County Circuit Court ruling.

Morgantown City Manager Terrence Moore says the city's looking at its options.

"More education, more opportunities to clarify and direct any abilities on part of Northeast Energy leadership to provide a safe environment while they commence with their oil and drilling activities, is really what we hope to accomplish at this point," Moore said.

"It's important to note after a court opinion or ruling has been issued, the city of Morgantown has about four months to respond via appeal. However, no direction or decision has been offered to proceed in that regard at this point."

In the ruling, Judge Susan Tucker wrote that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has control over regulations in oil and natural gas development and production.

She noted that authority does not provide an exception for the city to impose a ban.

Moore says despite the ruling, there's nothing he believes the city would have done differently.

"I think the city of Morgantown did, and the city council did as much as it possibly could to be responsive to the concerns," Moore said.

"The city council felt compelled to offer some level of response and in essence this is how this all came about."

Morgantown's not the first place in the state to implement a fracking ban.

Wellsburg and New Martinsville also had similar bans, but those have been rescinded.

The first municipality to impose a ban is now the only place that has one.

It's Lewisburg, in Greenbrier County. John Manchester is the mayor there.

"Right now I see no specific need to overturn our ordinance. No drilling is going on and none is specifically proposed here in the near future," Manchester said.

"I expect we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Manchester says he's personally disappointed with the court ruling and hopes the state legislature will be able to approve comprehensive gas drilling rules.

"I expect our municipal ordinances helped the governor move ahead with his decision to issue his executive order to the DEP to protect water supplies, and we're appreciative of that," he said.

"I hope these ordinances serve as a reminder to the legislature to do their job, and enact the rules to protect West Virginians who live in town and in the country."

In a statement provided to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Northeast Natural Energy President Michael John says the company's pleased with the ruling and is committed to operating in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.

Fracking at the first well is expected to begin in September.