"People who are not in the Marcellus areas have no clue how big this is going to be," says Kurt Hausammann Jr., planning director for Lycoming County, Pa. "This has the possibility to change our whole way of life."
Hausammann's comment echoes the cover story on April's American Agriculturist magazine. Experts doubt the natural gas play has have even one-tenth of the impact of that to come in the largely rural communities.
He estimates that a third to half of the state land in Lycoming County is leased for natural gas drilling. Possibly three-fourths of private land is leased.
Hausammann will be the featured speaker during a free, Web-based seminar titled, "Natural Gas Development Land Use Controls in Lycoming County". It'll air at 1 p.m., July 15. Sponsored by Penn State Cooperative Extension, the webinar will provide an overview of land-use planning strategies as shale-gas exploration intensifies across Pennsylvania counties.
Webinars may be accessed via computers on the Web. Information about how to register for the webinar is available at http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/webinars. Online participants will have the opportunity to ask the speakers questions during the session.
Exploring local zoning controls
Last year the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that local governments may not enact specific ordinances targeting gas-drilling operations. But Hausammann suggests it can be done through zoning. "You can't do a stand-alone ordinance targeting oil and gas. But if you don't have zoning, there's nothing you can do."
That's why a Lycoming county task force expects to have a proposed ordinance in August and a final draft for the county commissioners in September. Once adopted, it'll be published and available as a model for other municipalities.
"Our ordinance is geared toward health, safety and welfare," he adds, not aesthetics. By regulating land use, the county could "remain on firm footing" by staying with considerations of health, safety and welfare.
Drilling is prohibited in two specific districts: rural centers or villages occupying less than a total of 50 acres, and neighborhoods which could be parcels such as trailer parks occupying as little as 10 acres.
Within these districts, noise regulations also apply. While operations are exempt from noise ordinances during the drilling or fracking phases, any permanent facilities such as processing stations or compression stations must be enclosed in a building so that they are quiet, he said.
The ordinance also recommends clearing no more native vegetation and trees than necessary. Hausammann says many pads aren't visible from a ground approach because the tree line runs right up the edge. Other BMPs include co-location of pipelines along the same right-of-way, and shrinking the easements for rights-of-way to 30 feet from 50 feet after the production phase is complete.
He says that gas companies have been very cooperative both in helping develop language for the ordinance and in following its recommendations. He adds that there are many economic benefits to both to gas companies and local municipalities Many companies and many local people are making a lot of money, either through leases, royalties, trucking companies or water companies selling water.
More to come
The "Natural Gas Development Land Use Controls in Lycoming County" webinar is part of an ongoing series of workshops addressing issues related to the state's Marcellus shale gas boom. One-hour webinars also will be held at 1 p.m. on the following dates:
Aug. 19: "Local Natural Gas Task Force Initiatives"; Presenters: Mark Smith, Bradford County; Pam Tokar-Ickes, Somerset County; and Paul Heimel, Potter County.
Sept. 16: "Natural Gas Experiences of Marcellus Residents: Preliminary Results from the Community Satisfaction Survey"; Presenter: Kathy Brasier, Penn State.
Previous webinars, which covered topics such as water use and quality, gas-leasing considerations for landowners and implications for local communities, can be viewed at extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/webinars.