A new survey of Allegheny County local government officials reveals deep concerns over whether shale gas drilling can be compatible with local land use regulations. By a wide margin, those officials also believe that decisions about fracking are best left to local government.
The survey comes at a key moment, as property owners and municipal governments have wrestled with legal arguments over whether local zoning ordinances can be used to block or limit fracking.
Local officials overwhelmingly reported safety and environmental concerns with potential shale gas extraction within their jurisdictions. More than half of survey respondents (51 percent) answered that public safety was their biggest concern when considering local zoning rules governing shale drilling, and more than one-quarter (27 percent) said that environmental impacts were their top concern.
Local Allegheny County officials believe that they are best suited to make decisions related to zoning and regulating shale gas drilling within their jurisdictions to protect public health and the environment. Nearly four out of five (78 percent) surveyed officials believe the local government should have the primary oversight of determining where shale drilling can occur.
In part, this relates to concerns over whether shale gas extraction could conflict with other local zoning decisions that establish residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial areas. More than three quarters (77 percent) of survey respondents answered that shale gas extraction “presents incompatible land use conflicts” in their communities; more than half (55 percent) strongly agreed.
“The state government has shown it is committed to promoting more fracking in Pennsylvania,” says Doug Shields, Western Pennsylvania Outreach Liaison at Food & Water Watch. “This survey shows that many Allegheny County officials believe that fracking is incompatible with protecting the health and public safety of their communities.”
The overwhelming preference by local officials to manage drilling decisions for the benefit of local communities are especially timely, with legal and political arguments unfolding over drilling and zoning. In a closely watched recent state Supreme Court case, a group of Fairfield Township residents argued that the township was violating its own zoning ordinances by allowing wells in residential and agricultural areas.
The survey will be discussed at “Fracking in Your Local Community: Your Rights and Municipal Responsibilities,” a June 3 forum organized by Food & Water Watch at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
About the survey and findings: Food & Water Watch surveyed local Allegheny County officials between April 7 and May 25 on their opinions on the impact of shale gas extraction on their communities, the compatibility of drilling with local land use considerations and which level of government should have primary authority over drilling. The survey was mailed to 663 officials, about 75 percent of the nearly 900 municipal elected officials in Allegheny County, including mayors, city and borough councilmembers, and Township supervisors and commissioners. Additionally, we followed up with phone calls to over 500 officials. Food & Water Watch built a list of all local elected officials in Allegheny County. We then matched this list with voter file data using NGP VAN’s matching tool. Every local elected official who matched to a record in VAN was mailed a survey. Where voter file data provided a phone number for the individual, we made a follow up call. Seventy-four officials (11 percent of those elected officials who were contacted) responded to the survey.
Which level of government —the federal, state or local level -- do you think should have primary control in determining where shale gas extraction operations, including drilling sites, are located?
|User Provided No Response||1||1%|
Choose one response to complete this statement: My number one concern when considering a zoning ordinance that governs shale gas extraction in my municipality is:
|Preserving the character of my community||7||9%|
|Incompatible land use conflicts||5||7%|
Shale gas extraction operations would present incompatible land use conflicts with existing land uses in my community.