Pennsylvania's new law regulating the Marcellus Shale gas industry has sent Allegheny County Councilman Michael Finnerty back to the drawing board on his proposal that called for bigger buffer zones around drilling platforms and compressor stations.
State Act 13 made moot Mr. Finnerty's idea of keeping the drilling facilities at least 1,000 feet from residences and schools and at least 500 feet from permanent water sources such as ponds, lakes and streams. The law, with exceptions for densely populated areas, sets the no-drilling limit at 500 feet from residences in many suburban areas, for instance.
This is the latest example of the conflict between statewide uniformity in drilling regulations and the aims of local officials, a situation that is leading some municipalities to challenge the act in court.
In Allegheny County's case, Mr. Finnerty instead intends to amend his setback provisions so they comply with state regulation while trying to make minimal improvement that should avoid a conflict. He wants to require companies to erect noise-reducing screens around compressor stations, which he believes should pass legal muster with the state rules.
It is important for the county to impose what standards it can to negate drilling's ill effects. Going too far, though, will have economic consequences. This disappointing state law that severely limits the zoning authority of municipalities and counties also says communities that don't comply won't get a share of the fees the state is to collect from drilling operators.
For that reason, council should act quickly on another piece of drilling legislation, this one proposed by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. It is a technicality required by the law. In order to receive funds from the drilling fees, the county must authorize an impact fee by April 16.
The revenue could be used to pay for road, bridge, water and sewer projects, safety expenses, environmental programs and tax reductions for home-owners. It would be a mistake to miss that deadline and leave the county out of the running for such help.