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Peters Township, Pa. Group Wants to Ban Fracking
December 31, 1969

Activists opposed to natural gas drilling are taking a unique approach in an attempt to ban hydraulic fracturing in Peters Township, which is located in Washington County, Pennsylvania. The Peters Township Marcellus Shale Awareness group is attempting to have township residents vote on a referendum that amends the home rule charter to ban hydraulic fracturing. It is believed that no municipality has ever held a voter referendum initiative to ban hydraulic fracturing, though there have been several attempts, most notably in the city of Pittsburgh.

The referendum is facing a legal challenge, though not from the drilling industry or property owners, but from Peters Township. The Awareness Group submitted a petition with 2,422 signatures of township residents to place the hydraulic fracturing ban on the ballot. Peters Township opposes a township wide vote because it enacted an ordinance that it believes places reasonable zoning restrictions on natural gas drilling operations. The obvious difference between the ordinance and the referendum is that the referendum calls for an outright ban while the ordinance places restrictions on operations. Peters Township argues that the outright ban on hydraulic fracturing violates Pennsylvania’s Oil & Gas Act. As such, the municipality believes it could potentially spend millions of dollars defending the referendum against legal challenges brought by drilling companies and property owners. The proposed referendum was drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which also drafted the failed proposed referendum approved by the City of Pittsburgh’s council. 

On September 28, 2011, Judge Paul Pozonsky of Washington County, Pennsylvania heard arguments on whether to block the voter referendum. This is not a challenge to the zoning ordinance approved by Peters Township. Because Washington County is responsible for conducting elections, a decision as to whether the referendum can be placed on the ballot must be decided by the first week of October to allow Washington County to print ballots. If the referendum is allowed to be presented to the voters of Peters Township, the election will be held on November 8. Stay tuned.
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