08/15/2011  MetroNews Staff Writer
Judge Strikes Down Morgantown Fracking Ban

Regulation of companies using the process of hydraulic fracturing to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus shale lies with the state Department of Environmental Protection, not the city of Morgantown, a Monongalia County judge ruled Friday.

(Read order here.)

Earlier this year, the city passed an ordinance that bans fracking within one mile of city limits.  Northeast Natural Energy Co., which has two drilling projects near Morgantown, took the city to court to get their drilling wells operational again.

On Friday, Monongalia County Judge Susan Tucker ruled Morgantown's ordinance to be invalid, clearing the way for Northeast to resume drilling.

In the court's opinion, Tucker said the state had exclusive control of regulation.  Tucker also noted strides made by the state to implement comprehensive rules for drilling.

"It is also apparent to this Court that the environmental issues are being addressed by our State government, as indicated by Governor Tomblin's July 5, 2011 Executive Order to the Director of the WVDEP," the ruling says.

Tomblin's executive order lays out regulations for Marcellus drilling.  The city of Morgantown cannot supersede those guidelines, Tucker ruled.

However, the court noted that fracking may present a number of environmental problems.  But the DEP is responsible for overseeing the drilling, the court ruled.

Northeast President Mike John says the company is now ready to continue drilling projects.

"We are pleased with the ruling, and we intend to continue to work in good faith with the Morgantown Utility Board, the City of Morgantown, and other stakeholders in Monongalia County," he said.

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