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Limits on gas drilling adopted in Ohio Township

Ohio Township supervisors last night approved an ordinance that places regulations on companies drilling for Marcellus shale gas, despite opposition from residents fearful of the industry.

"It's not safe. The industry is still in flux and people don't have enough information," said Ted Poppovich of Ben Avon. "This process lacks transparency."

Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the measure. About 75 people, most of them opposed to drilling, attended the meeting.

The ordinance limits drilling within 1,500 feet of any residence, business, school, religious institution, swimming pool or other public building; requires companies to install a 6-foot-high safety fence around its operations; restricts drilling to between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.; and requires companies to provide police and fire officials with an emergency plan.

There is a $500 penalty for violations.

"I think you need to go further," said Seth Jackson of Ohio Township. "I think we need to stop this altogether."

Solicitor Mike Witherel said the township's current ordinance, adopted in 2003, placed no restrictions on drilling. Local municipalities are preempted by the state Oil and Gas Act, which prevents them from prohibiting drilling.

"As it stands now, it's open season in Ohio Township. This ordinance would make it closed season," Witherel said.

Supervisor Thomas R. Beatty allayed concerns of a conflict of interest by saying that neither his engineering firm, ACA Engineering Inc., nor GWE Resources, a gas, water and energy firm in which Beatty is a partner, would profit from the measure.

"I assure you, I gain nothing financially," he said. "If it comes down to it, I will abstain my vote."

Township supervisors last month approved a lease between the Avonworth Municipal Authority and Energy US that gave the Downtown-based company the authority to drill for Marcellus shale gas beneath 119 acres in ACORD Community Park in Kilbuck and Ohio townships.

The five-year lease was overturned, however, when other communities that make up the authority rejected the deal.

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