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Gas driller argues Pennsylvania law trumps local zoning

8/17/2011 | Real Estate Blog

Range Resources, a company that drills for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale Formation in Pennsylvania, has found itself locked in a regulatory debate with several Pennsylvania townships and communities. Most recently, it has taken steps to challenge South Fayette’s zoning ordinance, which Range Resources has argued unfairly blocks development in the area.

The zoning ordinance in question establishes buffer zones, in which gas drilling is not allowed, around schools, hospitals, and some commercial properties. Range Resources has argued that these zones amount to a ban on drilling throughout the township, and the company recently filed an appeal to the South Fayette zoning board in order to challenge the ordinance.

Range Resources has offered two main arguments as to why the zoning ordinance should be set aside. Firstly, the company argues that the local ordinance conflicts with Pennsylvania state law. Specifically, the company believes that the ordinance violates the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, which requires municipalities to permit mineral development.

Secondly, Range Resources argues that the conditions of South Fayette’s ordinances are so restrictive that the conditions amount to a ban of drilling in the area. Range Resources owns about 4,000 acres in the township, and it believes that the ban on drilling violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment states that private property cannot be taken by the government without just compensation.

Presently, the parties are waiting for a decision from the zoning board. However, when a zoning board makes a decision, it is not always the final. People affected by zoning board decisions have the ability to appeal those decisions in the courts. In this particular situation, Range Resources has stated that it will appeal the issue in the court system if the zoning board rejects the company’s arguments.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Marcellus Shale driller fighting South Fayette ordinance,” Erich Schwartzel, Aug. 17, 2011