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Morgantown lets illegal drilling ban stay on books

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Morgantown is keeping a municipal ban on Marcellus Shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing on the books even though a judge has declared it unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The Dominion Post says City Council has rejected a motion to rescind the ban for the second time in two months.

Repealing the ban might make it appear as if the city is rethinking its earlier position, argues Councilman Bill Byrne.

"It's a mark in the sand about what Morgantown thinks is right," he said earlier this week. "We need to stand strong."

Morgantown tried earlier this year to ban deep horizontal drilling and fracking within municipal boundaries and up to a mile beyond. In August, though, a Monongalia County Circuit Court judge ruled the city had overstepped its authority. She said the state Department of Environmental Protection has sole regulatory authority over oil and gas operations.

The ban was triggered by Northeast Natural Energy's decision to drill two wells in the Morgantown Industrial Park, above the Monongahela River about a mile from a drinking water intake. The site, just beyond city limits, has been targeted for multiple protests.

The wells have since been completed and will be connected to Dominion Hope's system to provide gas for the Morgantown market.

Mayor Jim Manilla, who wants to rescind the ban, said he has a problem with council extending its jurisdiction beyond city limits.

"I'm not talking about Marcellus Shale," he said. "I don't think it's right to infringe or try to put regulations on someone else's property."

Councilwoman Linda Herbst argues that allowing the ordinance to stand also gives a false sense of security to some residents who may incorrectly believe the city can enforce the ban.

But some residents urged council to let the ban stand until stronger state regulations are in place.

City Manager Terrence Moore said his staff is still researching ways to address Marcellus Shale drilling through zoning laws, and the Planning Commission is expected to review a recommendation in March.


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