By Chris English
Bucks County Courier Times
Posted Jul 8, 2015 at 12:01 AM
We're on the same side, all five Newtown Township supervisors told residents who came out in force at Wednesday night's meeting to express concerns about a joint fracking ordinance being circulated among officials in Newtown Township, Wrightstown and Upper Makefield.
The ordinance, if eventually enacted, would regulate fracking in all three townships. If passed, it might never come into play because there are no known deposits of natural gas or oil in any of the three townships.
Also, there are two moratoriums on fracking in the area that include the three municipalities. A state-imposed moratorium prohibits the practice until 2018, and a Delaware River Basin Commission moratorium is indefinite.
Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a method for extracting natural gas or oil by injecting fluid under high pressure into cracks or fissures in underground rock formations.
Wednesday night, Newtown Township supervisors Ryan Gallagher, Phil Calabro, Mike Gallagher, Jennifer Dix and Kyle Davis all said they didn't want fracking in any of the three townships and would research whether it was possible just to enact a total ban.
If not, the supervisors assured residents that they would do their best to see that any ordinance enacted would offer the maximum protection.
An ordinance regulating fracking in the three townships might eventually be necessary, some of the supervisors said.
"We don't want oil and gas drilling in our township, not at all," said Kyle Davis. "(But) we have no legal right to ban oil and gas drilling. We're looking to make sure it has as little impact on residents as possible, if it ever comes up."
Fellow supervisor Mike Gallagher said he didn't want to completely close the door on the idea of a ban on fracking based on convincing evidence that it's bad for the public health.
"We're with you on this," he told the residents. "Our job is to be proactive and be sure we're protecting the residents. I hope you see from this meeting that we're on the exact same side on this issue as you are."
The supervisors said an ordinance was drafted because state zoning law does not allow municipalities to simply ban a use within its boundaries. Not having an ordinance that could at least regulate where within the municipalities fracking is done and containing provisions about how it's done might risk the possibility that officials would be forced to allow it at any location, they said.
However, Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said her group is working to make the moratoriums on fracking permanent bans, and urged the supervisors to work with the network and concerned residents toward the same goal.
"There are two schools of thought out here," said Newtown Township Environmental Advisory Council member Steve Bacher. "One is for the three municipalities to just ban fracking and be done with it. If you can't or won't do that, recognize that there are weaknesses in this ordinance as currently drafted and it needs to be a lot better."
Mike Gallagher said an estimate from an attorney who helped draft the ordinance that supervisors from the three townships would vote on it in the next month or two was way too optimistic.
It will likely be closer to six months or longer if the ordinance comes up for a vote at all, he added.