Current ordinance may provide good foundation for restricting drilling

Regulating the areas within the City of St. Marys where gas and oil drilling can take place may be as simple as modifying a portion of the city code, according to some members of city council and the city's planning commission. During a joint meeting between the two groups on Tuesday evening, planning commission members remarked that they believed the portion of the city code related to mining, quarrying and related processing facilities, which prohibits the exploration of minerals in certain areas, should be applicable to oil and gas drilling as well. According to Chapter 27, Section 441 of the city code, "within the Rural Conservation and Industrial Zones, mining, quarrying and related processing facilities are permitted by conditional use" and subject to specific criteria. Additionally, the city code defines mining as including "the extraction of overburden and minerals from the earth" and "the preparation and processing of minerals."As part of their discussion, city council and the planning commission made mention of three court cases where municipalities' ordinances restricting oil and gas drilling had been upheld, and indicated that they planned to examine those municipalities' ordinances further as they move forward. In the court case regarding one of those ordinances, Huntley & Huntley, Inc. v. the Borough Council of the Borough of Oakmont, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the term "mineral" does include natural gas. Although the Supreme Court has already ruled on the definition of 'mineral', in a Jan. 5 memo, the St. Marys planning commission made five recommendations to city council regarding potential changes to the city's ordinance, one of which was to add in a definition of "mineral" to "solidify oil and gas drilling as a mining activity." The current city code also stipulates that mining operations have a minimum lot area of 50 acres and must meet specified requirements for fencing, access, reclamation, setbacks, screening and landscaping, and water restoration.