Skip to Content

News & Resources

Commonwealth Court hears appeal over natural gas drilling law

10/18/2012 | Real Estate Blog

On Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s new Marcellus Shale drilling law-the one that, among other things, removes local zoning power from municipalities-was under consideration by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. As our readers may know, portions of the controversial law were overturned in July.

In July, the law was deemed unconstitutional because it requires local officials to permit drilling activity in areas where it would otherwise be prohibited under local zoning plans. According to one judge on the panel, state oversight has the purpose of creating efficient production and utilization of natural resources, but zoning matches land use to local demographic and environmental concerns.

In addition to the section on zoning, another section permitting the state Department of Environmental Protection to grant waivers on distance requirements between gas wells and certain water sources.

State officials contest the court’s decision on both the zoning and DEP waiver. Representatives from municipalities are contesting several other matters, including the Public Utility Commission’s ability to decide whether municipal ordinances comply with state law.

Local officials argue that a previous decision by the Commonwealth Court is thought to provide strong precedent for the law. The 2009 decision involved an energy company was improperly denied a permit to drill, and stated that Pennsylvania’s drilling law did not entirely preempt local rules since state and local government have charge of different aspects of oversight. But two sections of the new law related to local ordinances didn’t exist back in 2009, and it remains to be seen how the court will handle the more restrictive provisions.

Source: Pittsburg Post Gazette, “State Supreme Court to hear Shale law challenge today,” Laura Olson, October 17, 2012