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State Shale Tax Bill Bigfoots Local Drilling Laws

Communities across Pennsylvania would no longer be able to control their own fates when it comes to regulating natural gas drilling under a measure that has been voted through a House committee along party lines.

The bill includes a clause that statewide rules would supersede all local laws for oil and gas operations. Committee Chairman Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) said that Democrats have been clamoring for industry regulations, so now they can have them, but the rules should be uniform across the state.

Rep. Scott Boyd (R-Lancaster) argued that removing the local regulation option is important if the entire state is going to benefit from natural gas drilling. "To allow a local municipality to shut that down simply because three members of an elected board don't want to allow any drilling in their area, and they can zone it out, trust me — they can zone it out."

Pittsburgh is among a growing but still small number of cities that have banned hydraulic fracturing within their limits.

The vote clears the way for fast action when the House returns after taking a break for the November election. A similar bill has already passed out of a Senate committee.

The bills differ enough that it could cause problems in getting consensus on a measure that would land on the governor's desk. However, Benninghoff said imposing state regulations over local laws shouldn't be an obstacle for his counterparts in the Senate.

"I don't think it's a deal breaker; I think it's something we can discuss with them. Nothing's cemented at this moment, but I think it's a very good step forward if we're going to let this industry continue to grow and provide the amount of jobs," said Benninghoff.

Democrats on the committee balked at the notion of excluding municipalities from the regulatory process. The ranking Democrat on the panel, Phyllis Mundy of Luzerne County, called it the "drill, baby, drill bill."