As I was reading the Post Gazette the other morning, my eye was caught by an article discussing the tracking of water used in drilling operations (Bill Tolland, “Tracking fracking water goes high-tech,” 5/10/11). It immediately got me thinking about whether the Gas Drilling Ordinance #1239 passed by O’hara Township Council last month made any provisions for tracking of water. Since my daughter is graduating from college in Massachusetts this weekend, it took me until today to track that down. The short answer: it doesn’t. In fact, the ordinance doesn’t even mention fracking water. Nor do I recall the issue of “what happens to the water” ever being discussed. That’s mostly because there wasn’t any significant discussion of this ordinance in public. Had Council gone to the effort of actively encourage residents to come out to the two meetings (and especially the public hearing) where our ordinance was introduced (and not discussed), perhaps someone would have noticed the omission and encourage the Council to go back and do its homework a little more carefully. In this particular case, the technology for tracking water is readily available, and it would have been a simple thing to require any drilling operation in the Township to utilize such technology. Who knows what else we missed? I’m only now beginning to understand many of the subtleties of the debate on this topic.
That article also got me thinking about my other “favorite” ordinance, #1237 (…To Provide Regulations of Certain Energy Generating Structures and Facilities… which the Council passed back in February. I spoke up at the 10-minute-long public hearing to say that I was concerned that the Ordinance (touted by several on Council as making it “easier” for residents to install renewable energy sources) did nothing of the sort. Since there were no restrictions on, for example, installing solar panels on a roof or a geothermal device next to your house prior to #1237, all that was necessary was the usual construction permit. Now that we have an ordinance there are many additional restrictions, including a limit on the extent of a roof that can be used for solar power. The only explanation for why this was necessary was “safety reasons,” (which still didn’t seem to me as though it needed anything more than the existing construction ordinance) and a comment by a Council member that “it might not look so good to have too many panels.” Then in March I read “Replacing Your Roof With Solar Shingles” in the Post-Gazette (3/22/11). These solar panels certainly have no safety issues of the kind envisioned by our Township engineer, nor do they have the same aesthetic concerns as the 30-year-old technology that the Councillors had in mind when they created the regulation might engender. But the way our ordinance is written, a homeowner would actually have to ask for a variance in order to install this new technology. All because the Council did not go out of its way to inform residents (some of whom might have been aware that the ordinance as proposed was already outdated) that this “enhancement” to the Zoning Ordinance was being discussed.
There’s a primary election coming up on Tuesday. I’m a candidate on the Republican ballot, along with Bob Smith and Bart Bodkin, both of whom are currently Council members. If you’re a registered Republican and you agree that we need to be doing a better job of engaging residents in ongoing discussions about important issues, please come out and cast one of your two votes for me.
If you’re a registered Democrat, I’d encourage you to come out and write me in on the ballot. There’s only one other candidate (you get to vote for two), and even if the Democratic party decides that it would be unacceptable to have a Republican representing them on the fall ballot, I think it’s still worth registering your concerns by casting a write-in vote if you agree with my interest in involving as many residents as possible in the processes of our community.
See you at the polls!