Peters councilman taking his shale ruling expertise on the road
August 21, 2014 12:00 AM
Peters Councilman David Ball
By Janice Crompton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
David Ball has a story to tell, and people want to hear it.
The 71-year-old Peters councilman has lately been in demand across the country for his expertise as a local official who stood up to state politicians and gas industry officials over the rights of local citizens to control some aspects of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
Mr. Ball was one of two local officials who personally challenged the state’s Act 13, the law governing drilling in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. The state Supreme Court overturned key provisions in the act, including a finding that limits on local control of where gas drilling can take place were unconstitutional.
A three-term councilman, Mr. Ball is clear that he doesn’t oppose drilling. He fought efforts several years ago to ban drilling in Peters, certain that such a position could not withstand a court challenge.
“The state oil and gas act said very clearly that we could not ban drilling,” he said. “Whether we wanted to or not, we couldn’t legally do it.”
But he was concerned that local rights were being usurped by the 2012 act, which would have tied the hands of local officials to enact zoning controls on drilling and effectively singled out the oil and natural gas industries for statewide zoning exceptions.
“When Act 13 was being proposed, there were several of us that were very, very opposed to it, because it was an absolutely terrible piece of legislation,” said Mr. Ball, speaking of himself and fellow local officials Andy Schrader of Cecil and Brian Coppola, a former Robinson supervisor who was also a party to the litigation.
“That’s when we got together and spent a great deal of time lobbying our elected officials to vote it down.”
Despite several trips to Harrisburg, the trio was unsuccessful in persuading state lawmakers to scuttle the legislation.
Mr. Ball, Mr. Schrader and Mr. Coppola were the core group of a challenge filed by the townships of Cecil, Robinson, Peters and Mt. Pleasant in Washington County and South Fayette in Allegheny County, along with two towns in Bucks County.
The multi-municipality group was represented pro bono by lawyer John Smith, who serves as solicitor for Peters and Cecil.
When the litigation was ongoing last year, many statewide groups asked Mr. Ball and his cohorts to speak about the challenges of taking on a multimillion dollar industry and state government. Now that the issue has been decided, Mr. Ball is attracting attention across the nation from towns where unconventional gas well drilling is just beginning.
“It’s kind of a mix,” Mr. Ball said of speaking requests. “We’ve had a lot of requests from citizens groups and environmental groups.”
Next month, the trio will visit eastern Virginia, where they have been asked to speak about their experiences with shale drilling and local regulations. At issue there is exploratory drilling in the Taylorsville Basin shale play.
After that, Mr. Ball has been enlisted to speak to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group. At that forum, he plans to discuss his interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling.
Although he isn’t a lawyer, Mr. Ball said he feels his interpretation of the ruling is correct, especially concerning two key provisions: that the right to establish zoning laws by local officials cannot be overruled by the state and citizens have a constitutional right to clear air, water and environment.
“The right to clear air, clear environment, clear water is as important as free speech, the right to own and bear arms,” Mr. Ball said.
Mr. Smith said that Mr. Ball is among the most knowledgable local officials he’s worked with.
“Dave is a very well-educated man — he wasn’t just somebody who was a plaintiff,” Mr. Smith said. “He worked with the filing of the draft, he provided input and was a sounding board for ideas. He was instrumental from day one.”
Mr. Ball spent 40 years working for U.S. Steel as a manager of steel-making operations and was CEO of a joint venture company started by the steel giant in India for 11 years. He retired in 2003 and has since worked as a consultant and volunteer for Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living, a Washington, Pa.-based organization that advocates for the civil rights of people with disabilities.
A longtime local Republican committeeman, Mr. Ball has been married to his wife Gerry for 50 years. The couple have one grown daughter and two grandchildren.
Mr. Ball, who has lived in Peters since 1981, said that although he has spent a lot of hours and dollars advocating for local rights — he talks to groups gratis —- he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I have never been a person who could just sit still,” Mr. Ball said. “I have to be involved in something.”
Janice Crompton: email@example.com or 412-263-1159.
DAVID M. BALL
OCCUPATION: Retired from business, involved in community
FAMILY: Wife, Gerry; daughter, Susan; grandchildren, Macy and Zachary
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree from Lehigh University and master’s degree from Duquesne University.
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