How to Determine Whether or Not Your Zoning Has Protective Language

If you determine that the area in which you live does have zoning, then you may be in luck. Many municipalities and townships utilize zoning codes to help protect citizens and individual’s health, safety, and property rights. Whether or not the area in which you live provides you with these protections depends on the content of the zoning ordinance.

In order to determine whether your zoning provides such protections, first identify the relevant portions of your zoning plan.

Zoning ordinances can be hundreds of pages and address a wide variety of issues. Sometimes there are ordinances that specifically say "oil & gas" or "Marcellus Shale" and sometimes there is much broader language that addresses mineral extraction and never expressly mentions natural gas extraction or fracking. Most computers have a way to search through a document for related words and phrases.

  • Words and phrases to look out for:
    • Language discussing "oil and gas"
    • Language discussing "mineral extraction"
    • Zones labeled "residential," "industrial," "agricultural," etc.

Once you have identified the relevant portions of your local zoning ordinance, you can now determine whether or not the zoning increases citizen protections in your area.

Some indicators of protective language include:

  • A reference to ensuring that operators not violate the Environmental Rights Amendment of the PA Constitution;
  • A classification of fracking activity as an industrial or heavy industrial activity. This is protective because then it will be generally be confined to areas traditionally used for similar types of activity; such as manufacturing and other types of mineral extraction.
  • Mentions of “setbacks,” or the specific minimum distance that fracking activity must be kept from other structures such as homes, schools, churches, and community centers;
  • Additional baseline survey requirements. Examples include testing for water quality, water quantity, and hydro-geological or groundwater analysis;
  • Bonding or insurance requirements;
  • Traffic limitations, as fracking increases traffic levels greatly;
  • Minimum acreage requirements, for example, an ordinance that requires at least 20 acres be available for drilling a gas well pad;
  • Restrictions on noise, light, odors, dust, vibrations, and hours of operation;
  • Requirements for providing local first responders with emergency preparedness plans and trainings; and
  • Supplemental notification requirements to residents and municipalities both before operations begin and if operations deviate from original plans.

For a more detailed list including links to examples from localities that have adopted protective language see the section, Examples of Protective Language.

Next Step

If these protections do not exist in your local ordinance, or if your ordinance does not address oil and gas development at all, think about initiating the process to either update or amend your zoning to make it more protective of the health and well-being of those who live in your community.  This may require education for the community. And before you start the process of Introducing and Amending Local Rules you will want to spend some time considering which types of ordinances are best for your community. Otherwise, you may risk implementing ordinances that would not withstand a legal challenge.

Continue here to learn more about how to choose the protections that make the most sense for your community.

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