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Pa. intermediate appellate court strikes down major provisions of “fracking” law, P.1

8/1/2012 | Real Estate Blog

Our regular readers know that we’ve written previously about Pennsylvania’s controversial “fracking” law, Act 13. As we’ve noted, the law was heavily pushed by Governor Corbett in order to attract gas drilling to the state and create jobs. One of the most contentious aspects of the law is that it took zoning control out of the hands of municipalities.

In a major development last Thursday, major parts of that law were ruled unconstitutional, allowing communities once again to keep drilling at a distance. According to the court, the specific provisions of Act 13 that override local zoning authority and environmental laws are “unconstitutional, null, and void.” The ruling is being celebrated as a victory for local democracy, property rights, and public health.

The major goal of Act was to impose impact fees from drilling companies working on the Marcellus Shale formation. Prior to the law’s passage, Pennsylvania was the only major gas-producing state to not tax natural-gas production. This year alone, the industry was projected to generate $175 million in tax revenue.

The appeal arose when seven municipalities, two elected officials, a doctor, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and that group’s leaders all challenged the law after its passage in April.

One particular point of contention was that the law allowed natural gas drilling within 500 feet of buildings and water wells; within 300 feet of springs, rivers and wetlands over an acre in size; and within 1,000 feet of public drinking water sources. The law required municipalities to permit drilling in all zoning districts, and to alter their zoning laws within 120 days so that they complied with the law’s provisions, or they would lose impact fees. These and other provisions, though, drew a storm of criticism.

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this topic.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Major parts of Pa.’s natural-gas law ruled unconstitutional,” Bill Reed, July 28, 2012