Morgantown Residents Urge City Council to Fight for Fracking Ban

Now that a judge has ruled that Morgantown, West Virginia’s ordinance banning hydraulic fracturing within a mile of city limits is preempted by state law, some want to see city leaders appeal the ruling to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. They pushed for the city to stand firm on the fracking ban earlier this week, during a meeting of the Morgantown City Council.

Morgantown enacted the fracking ban after some city residents became concerned that Northeast Natural Energy of Charleston had been granted permits to drill two Marcellus Shale natural gas wells just upriver from the area’s drinking water intake on the Monongahela River. After failing in an attempt to block the ordinance via an injunction, Northeast filed suit, claiming natural gas drilling is regulated exclusively by the state, and alleging that the ordinance illegally deprived private land owners of their property rights.

On August 12, Monongalia County Circuit Judge Susan Tucker overturned the ordinance, finding that state code gives the West Virginia environmental regulators sole discretion regarding the exploration, development, production, storage and recovery of oil and gas.

According to the State Journal, Northeast has begun drilling its second well at the site that sparked the controversy, and plans to begin fracking in September.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, supporters of the ban pushed for an appeal.

“Your leadership on this issue is critical not just to Morgantown, but to the entire state,” Kathleen Cash, a leader of the citizens’ group West Virginia for a Moratorium on Marcellus, told the members, according to a report from the State Journal.

James Kotcon, speaking on behalf of the West Virginia Sierra Club, told City Council that its actions have influenced others in the state.

“We are going to be in contact to ask for help from Morgantown City Council to share your experiences about what’s involved with trying to get this industry under control. Because of your leadership others would like to follow,” he said.

Morgantown Assistant Staff Attorney Brent Burton told the State Journal that the city has four months to appeal the overturning of its ban to the state Supreme Court. The city’s options were discussed at an executive session held after the council meeting, but no decisions were made.

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