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Morgantown, West Virginia Sued by Natural Gas Drilling Company

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A natural gas drilling company is challenging the constitutionality of a West Virginia town’s recent ban on natural gas drilling that involves hydraulic fracturing within a mile outside city limits. On June 21, the Morgantown City Council voted 6-1 to ban drilling at a site along the Monongahela River. Shortly thereafter, Northeast Natural Energy (NNE) filed a lawsuit against the city of Morgantown in Monongalia County Circuit Court requesting a temporary injunction to prevent the city’s ordinance from becoming effective, reported the Associated Press. A judge denied the order without ruling on the plaintiff’s larger arguments.

Hydraulic fracturing has been an issue in Morgantown since residents expressed concerns over the likelihood of contaminated drinking water caused by drilling accidents. In early May, it was revealed that NNE of Charleston received a permit to drill two natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale which is upriver from the area’s drinking water.

NNE claims Morgantown “overreached its authority by trying to control an industry regulated exclusively by the state and is illegally depriving the companies and other private land owners of their property rights,” reported the Associated Press.

The city defends their action arguing a state code provision allows cities to extend their authority up to mile beyond city limits when necessary to carry out city functions.

Morgantown Mayor Bill Byrne responded to the allegations saying, “The city acted to protect both its water supply and its citizens because state legislators have failed to adopt regulations specific to Marcellus drilling.”

According to the company, Morgantown’s ban creates another issue since the city of Westover is within a mile of the contested site. Westover is considering a similar ordinance that will regulate drilling within the city and within a mile of city limits. The complaint alleges, if the Westover ordinance is passed, the company’s operation “‘will, ostensibly, be governed by three separate, inconsistent and irreconcilable regulations,”’ says the Associated Press.

Furthermore, Blacksville, Granville and Star City also border Morgantown and drilling operations in those communities could potentially be affected by either ordinance.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is reviewing Morgantown’s ordinance to ensure it complies with the agency’s regulations. The DEP will determine if the ordinance negatively affects the agency’s regulation process.

“There are other regulations, such as getting approvals from the county to drill in a flood plain that the state doesn’t have any authority over. The courts may decide that the city’s action does keep the owners of minerals from being able to get to them, but that doesn’t really fall under our jurisdiction,” said DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco.

Enrout Properties LLC also joined the lawsuit. The company owns the surface and mineral rights to an industrial park site, says the Associated Press, just outside the city where NNE is sinking wells.

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