Nancy Patton Mills said members of Moon's planning commission spent much of its meeting last month staring at a map.
"We tried to figure out where [in Moon Township] would be suitable for [Marcellus shale] drilling," said Patton Mills, who serves on the planning commission and Moon Board of Supervisors.
"With the layout in the community and neighborhood density, we don't have a suitable track of land that wouldn't destroy our neighborhoods," she said.
It's just one of many issues Moon officials are grappling with as they work to amend the township’s oil and gas drilling ordinances to include provisions for Marcellus shale drilling.
"There are so many variables it's ridiculous," Patton Mills said. "We are a work in progress, but we want to protect our residents."
Township planning commissioners are working with the Board of Supervisors to add language to the current drilling ordinance that would address land use, noise control and road bonding – common concerns in communities where Marcellus shale drilling is under way.
Moon Manager Jeanne Creese said no timeline is yet in place for the board to adopt the amendment.
Marcellus shale drilling is not yet taking place in the township, but that could change: D. Raja and Rich Fitzgerald, candidates vying to become Allegheny County Chief Executive, have each said if elected they would work to bring drilling to the 900 acres of county-owned land surrounding the Pittsburgh International Airport, much of which is in Moon.
A ban on drilling?
An option decidedly off the table is an outright ban on Marcellus shale gas drilling in Moon, said Patton Mills and Creese.
“We certainly do have residents that would like to have it banned,” Creese said. “The legal opinion we’ve received says that you can’t do that, that you have to allow the permitted activity.”
Creese said township officials are examining how to limit drilling to specific areas of the township, a task that has proved difficult given Moon's development and population density.
"They've looked at exactly where this would be most suited in an existing zoning district," Creese said. "Is there one zoning district or multiple [places] where this would fit? We've looked at industrial areas or certain types of residential areas where there are large tracts of land."
Patton Mills said even if drilling companies aren't drawn to Moon land, residents will still be impacted.
"Companies are still going to drive through Moon, hauling water and fracking solution on our roads," Patton Mills said. "We can't stop commerce."
Creese said Moon’s experience with traditional oil and gas drilling sets it apart from other communities looking to regulate Marcellus shale: The township has operated a conventional oil drilling well in Robin Hill Park “for years now,” Creese said.
"The distinction is we already have an existing oil and gas drilling ordinance, Creese said. "Many communities do not."
Earlier this year, supervisors toured drilling sites in Washington County to learn firsthand how drilling can impact a community.
"They wanted to understand what issues they would be facing," Creese said. "They wanted to see the sites and the processing plants and hear the noise."
State legislation threatens
Even as local leaders piece together an ordinance amendment, House Bill 1950 in the Pennsylvania General Assembly might soon strip Moon and other municipalities of the ability to regulate drilling in their communities.
The bill, which earlier this week gained state House Finance Committee approval, would enact a 1 percent gas drilling impact fee for companies while ending municipal involvement in drilling regulation.
"So anything we do might be a moot point," Patton Mills said. "[The Planning Commission] had a two-hour meeting [in October] and came to a moderate conclusion. Something workable, something that wouldn't get us sued, and it might have been in vain."
Creese called the bill a “huge threat” to Moon’s effort to control its land use.
“It’s always been vested in municipalities: our right to regulate our zoning and land use,” Creese said. “On the flip side, the huge amount of dollars we pay land use attorneys and the entire effort that staff and public officials have put in could be wiped out with a state law.”