by Patricia M. DeMarco
Food and Water Watch sponsored a two part program for municipalities and interested citizens on the Municipal Ordinance Project. As the hydraulic fracturing industry continues its build-out with the hope of expanding a petrochemical industry in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, and West Virginia, municipalities find themselves confronted by promises of jobs, wealth and prosperity. In fact, the actual results have been less auspicious for many communities. The Municipal Ordinance Project gives communities the tools to develop zoning ordinances the protect community interests, health and safety and infrastructure within the constraints of federal and state law. You can find more about this project here https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/campaign/municipal-ordinance-project-fighting-fracking-local-level
I presented the case study of the Borough of Forest Hills initial ban on fracking in 2011 and the adoption of stringent regulations of oil and gas industry activity in 2016.
You can see the entire regulation on the Borough of forest Hills Web site here Section 27-1019- Regulations Governing Oil and gas Development and Related Operations https://ecode360.com/31594364
The Borough of Forest Hills sits to the East of Pittsburgh, a bedroom community initially farmed land, then settled as a residential area for Westinghouse executives, engineers and employees. The character of the community remains one of residences nestled among mature trees, with pride in the Tree City status held since 1976. The Comprehensive Plan for Development, updated in 2020 expressions the community vision:
“The Borough of Forest Hills carries a tradition of innovation as the community grows in leadership toward a resilient future. The community values the natural beauty of its environment and enjoys the inclusiveness and diversity of its citizens, offering cultural, recreational, and educational services for all generations in safe and secure neighborhoods.”
Faced with federal law, the Nation energy Act of 2005 with its extensive exemptions from environmental protections and worker safety protections for hydraulic fracturing and State Law- Act 13 that requires communities to provide for oil and gas development, Forest Hills became alarmed about the fear of fracking intruding into the community. This heavy industrial activity is incompatible with residents’ expectations or with the geologic nature of our small borough.
Forest Hills Council investigated fracking through several public meetings and Council hearings through 2010 and 2011. Risks uncovered included, the extensive underlying coal mines in our area, which could be destabilized by seismic testing and hydraulic fracturing activity. We were concerned about the effect of heavy truck traffic on Ardmore Boulevard and Greensburg Pike as the m hundreds of loads of sand, chemicals, water and other materials were transported through our neighborhood. We were concerned about increased possibilities for landslides precipitated by the fracking activity, and we were concerned about effects on the ground water and streams as well as toxic air emissions from fracking operations. •
“My support of the ban was based on the fact that there is scientific evidence that this hydraulic fracking causes problems with the environment and problems with health.”
Mayor Marty O’Malley
Forest Hills adopted a ban on Fracking in 2011, resting heavily on the concerns for community health and safety, and relying on the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Article 1, Section 27: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”
However, because Pennsylvania has strong legislation supporting oil and gas development requiring that access to mineral rights be provided, there were some court cases that ruled against fracking bans when challenged, and that no lawful land use may be categorically prohibited, Council decided in 2016 to establish a Conditional Use Zoning regulation that would tightly constrain any oil and gas development efforts in Forest Hills. The 23-page zoning ordinance adopted in October 2016 meets the requirements of Pennsylvania law, but provides significant protection for Forest Hills citizens. Any proposed oil and gas development would be absolutely excluded from residential areas, parks, and all but a very small segment of the business district.
Forest Hills Borough pursued the replacement of its functionally limited 1922 municipal building with a passive solar design, solar photovoltaic roofed municipal building that combines the Borough and Council administrative offices, the Forest Hills Police Department, the Forest Hills Branch of the C.C.Mellor Library and a Community Room.
Forest Hills Borough Net Zero Energy Municipal building operational in January 2018
The Borough of Forest Hills moves forward with planning for a resilient, safe, welcoming community. We will focus on high tech business opportunities and continue to promote local enterprises.