Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Open Letter to the Pennsylvania State Legislature

I am a governor on the board of the Westmoreland Conservancy of Murrysville. We were recently contacted by a gas well drilling company concerning a proposed gas well on one of our nature reserves. Our conditional use does not permit such activity. The company did not press the issue, and it was not know at the time if we had the Mineral Rights or not.

This is an increasingly pervasive issue across Pennsylvania as the gas exploration industry, spurred by the price of natural gas, are going to smaller and smaller lots to do their drilling, often in the midst of residential neighborhoods. One recent contentious case from Oakmont was and continues to be fought in court.

I'm not sure if other states have this issue, but the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a law on the books which permits more than one owner for a parcel. The 'above' ground owner, and the mineral rights owner. Is it just me, or is this notion absurd?

Apparently local townships, municipalities and towns have little say in gas well drilling rights since state laws seem to always prevail. Beyond noise ordinance for gas powered compressors and proper erosion and sedimentation controls, the local authorities can do little. Salem Township recently enacted ordinances that give property owners more say in locating wells and access roads, but a recent court ruling declared them invalid. That township may be planning to appeal, but it is doubtful that they will prevail. It is really up to the legislature to pass laws that protect property owners to affect meaningful change that will be upheld by the courts.

Is not only private citizens and organizations like the Westmoreland Conservancy that are at odds with the obvious misguided and illogical notion historically given such that there are potentially two owners to a property. Many local townships are also trying to fight the battles, often in court. What we all desire is an effort from the legislature of Pennsylvania to try to come to terms with this brewing battle. I myself had a run in with developers when I lived in Washington Township. One drilling company wanted to drill on my land, and after much dispute between us, they eventually decided to drill next door. Many of my neighbors were equally displeased and distressed.

I would hope this could be a project that Pennsylvania legislators could tackle and introduce as a bill. Perhaps some measure of protections set up by local townships should be permitted. At the very least, other provisions setting minimum distances from existing structures, and other conditions set forth by the property owner ought to be taken into consideration.

Thanks for your consideration.
Douglas A. Bauman


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