Last week, Oakmont Borough Council voted to approve an updated Oil and Gas Well Ordinance. The amended ordinance expands definitions for natural-gas development infrastructure, restricts all oil and gas development to industrial zones, and sets a 2,000-foot setback from property lines.
Oakmont’s updated zoning ordinance is the result of months of work by residents seeking more protections from drilling in the area. Fracking company Huntley & Huntley notified the borough in June 2017 that it was about to begin “seismic testing,” a process of setting off explosive charges in deep holes to find where gas may be trapped. This inspired Oakmont residents to consider ways to regulate fracking in the area, including modifying the existing zoning ordinance.
Huntley & Huntley pulled back on their planned surveys soon after, but residents continued to push for an updated ordinance. The local group Citizens to Protect Oakmont offered a list of suggestions to borough council in Dec. 2018, including restricting fracking to only industrial zones, a 2,000-foot setback from residential properties, the removal of fracking from Oakmont’s light industrial district (which comprises a limo company, a landscape supply yard, a park and green space), and more transparency from drilling companies.
The council initially considered passing a notably weaker measure which would have left open possibilities for fracking in residential areas. But after continued pressure from community members, the council opted for a stronger ordinance.
According to research from the oil and gas watchdog FracTracker Alliance, nearly a fifth of Allegheny County is leased to gas drillers. Some of region’s 129 other municipalities have also had to make recent decisions regarding how they regulate fracking in their area.
Monroeville also adopted a restrictive zoning policy last year; but is now considering an ordinance that would allow drilling in more areas. Plum, a suburb next to Oakmont, decided a few months ago to allow drilling one-third of the municipality. Huntley & Huntley’s first Marcellus gas well is currently being constructed there.
Ed Gryster of Citizens to Protect Oakmont says the community’s win shows what is possible when neighbors work together to protect their town.
“From the beginning in May 2017, we worked to change the narrative of what's acceptable by educating and mobilizing our neighbors,” Gryster says. “We need to continue our work to strengthen the Citizens to Protect Oakmont and reach out to others in our region for real political change.”