Municipalities retain right to restrict oil and gas well drilling, Commonwealth Court rules
By Timothy Puko
Published: Wednesday, August 15, 2012, 10:21 p.m.
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Municipalities don't have to draft new land-use rules to comply with a controversial new law governing gas drilling unless the state Supreme Court decides they must, according to a Commonwealth Court bench ruling on Wednesday.
The Commonwealth Court in July struck down parts of the law that were meant to limit municipalities' zoning and land-use powers, and President Judge Dan Pellegrini ruled Wednesday that those portions of the law will stay inactive pending the state's appeal, according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Most rulings are stayed during an appeal, but the plaintiffs, including several Pittsburgh suburbs, asked the court to leave its ruling in force. That's so they don't have to comply with the new rules only to change back if they lose on appeal, said John M. Smith, the plaintiffs' lead attorney and solicitor for Cecil and Robinson in Washington County.
A spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, which is leading the case for the state and several of its departments, said he was not immediately aware of the decision Wednesday afternoon and would not comment.
Industry representatives and supporters in state government pushed to limit local control and standardize the rules for drillers in all 2,000 municipalities statewide. Lawmakers passed the wide-ranging reforms known as Act 13 in February. It included some restrictions, including a prohibition on drill pads within 300 feet of homes without a waiver from residents.
A 4-3 majority of the Commonwealth Court judges who heard the case ruled the restrictions on municipal land-use powers unconstitutional. They violate the efforts of neighbors to protect their property and irrationally force industrial land-use standards upon residential areas, Pellegrini wrote in his original majority decision.
The case does not affect the drilling fee and enhanced environmental regulations that are part of Act 13.
Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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