Plum residents divided over Marcellus shale drilling limits
A proposed update to Plum's zoning ordinance would limit Marcellus shale drilling in the borough, but some residents said they are concerned the restrictions don't go far enough.
The proposal covers all aspects of land use in Plum, but residents for and against it who attended a public hearing recently wanted to discuss only how the measure would affect gas drilling operations. The proposal would allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in rural residential and industrial zones.
“I'm against it in rural residential areas,” Mike Bowersox of Plum said.
He said his family might move if the borough allows fracking where he lives. Other residents living in rural residential zones suggested they might do the same.
Fracking is a technique to extract oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals into the ground. The Huntley & Huntley gas exploration company received approval to begin construction on a fracking well pad in Plum last month. The Monroeville company has said it is considering development of additional wells in Plum.
The borough's ordinance, last updated in 1993, now allows fracking in every zoning district after a conditional use is granted. About 20 percent of the 29-square-mile borough is zoned rural residential, meaning lots are at least 40,000-square-feet, according to Plum officials.
Huntley & Huntley has been lobbying for support of its drilling operations in the region. It paid for a mailing by tax collector and mayoral race winner Harry Schlegel urging Plum residents with gas leases on their property to come to the public hearing to rally against drilling regulations. The Republican supporter of gas exploration defeated Democratic Councilman Dave Vento, who is against fracking.
“Huntley & Huntley was providing information regarding this particular race that we believed was important to leaseholders about the protection of their property rights,” said Paul Burke, company vice president and attorney.
The post card mailed to gas leaseholders said in part: “The small number of people in Plum that are opposed to drilling are certain to be in attendance (at the hearing), and we need to have a strong presence of leaseholders to counter them, as well as volunteers to speak and present information on the safety of natural gas development and the benefits it will provide to the borough.”
A company representative handed out blue T-shirts that had “Natural Gas Supporter” printed on them to about 20 supporters who wore them during the hearing.
Arthur Danny, a Plum resident who said his family worked in the Renton coal mine in the 1960s, spoke against tighter regulation of fracking.
“I also depend on natural resource extraction as an income for my family. The difference this time is … I will not be bringing home clothes that are darkened and blackened-stained from the mines,” Danny said, drawing applause.
Six people spoke in favor of drilling and nine against it, but the audience of about 100 appeared to be split evenly on both sides of the issue.
“This is not a money issue — or somebody has the right to (drill) or not to do it. It's about health, it's about life, it's about human beings,” resident Ron Klos said.
Council — which could consider approval of the proposed zoning ordinance at its Nov. 13 meeting — mostly listened without comment during the nearly three-hour hearing. But Council President Mike Doyle said near the end of the hearing that regulations were vital to keep Plum from becoming the “Wild West” for gas drilling.
“If any of you or I owned a farm out in the rural residential area ... who am I … just as an elected official, to say you can't do that,” Doyle said about leasing property for drilling. “The landowner still has to sign the lease. There is still conditional uses they have to go through.”