When Pennsylvania lawmakers return from their Thanksgiving recess, they'll face thousands of names on petitions urging them not to strip municipalities of their rights to regulate drilling.
In separate actions, the House and Senate approved HB 1950 and SB 1100 respectively, which limit local regulation. That led Ron Slabe of Westmoreland County to start an online petition drive urging members of the House and Senate to reconsider their positions.
Upper Burrell, where Sable resides, approved an ordinance to regulate drilling through the zoning process. But Slabe called the two bills "a direct threat" to his community and other townships that are in the process of developing local laws to set parameters for drilling.
Slabe says that the legislation goes against an earlier ruling by the State Supreme Court. "Under the ruling, under the [Pennsylvania] Oil and Gas Act, municipalities could entail through ordinances just where the drilling could take place," Slabe said. "For example, not allowing it in residential areas was something, under the court ruling, we could indeed do in municipalities."
Nearly two weeks into his campaign, more than 10,600 Western Pennsylvania residents have electronically signed his petition. "People aren't just responding to the original intent of what these bill were — to wipe away local ordinances," Slabe said. "People are angered by the whole process of the gas industry basically dictating to the legislature just what they want, how they want it, and they're basically getting it, too."
The petitions are automatically delivered every day or two to the designated recipients: members of the legislature and Governor Tom Corbett. Slabe said that he has received responses from the governor's office and some lawmakers acknowledging they are receiving the petitions.
The House and Senate return to session on December 5 and will have to reconcile differences in the bills. The measures include nearly identical language limiting local governments' ability to regulate and zone natural gas drilling. The major differences in the bills are over the amount of impact fees imposed on each well and how the revenues would be distributed.
Slabe hopes that as lawmakers try to reconcile the bills, they will take into account the feelings of their constituents and change the language that severely limits municipalities' ability to regulate Marcellus Shale drilling. And if they don't?
"I don't think there's any doubt that there will be a (court) challenge to the law if it's passed as it is," Slabe said.