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Commonwealth Court Strikes Down Part of Drilling Law

By a 4-3 ruling, a Commonwealth Court panel today tossed out a provision of Act 13 that would have allowed statewide zoning policies for drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation.

"We're very pleased that they upheld our suit that would basically eliminate that portion of Act 13," said Peters Township Manager Michael Silvestri.

Seven municipalities: South Fayette Township in Allegheny County, Peters, Cecil, Mt. Pleasant and Robinson Townships in Washington County, and Yardley and Nockamixin in Bucks County filed suit this spring claiming that Act 13 unconstitutionally strips the power of the local governments to control their land and zoning.

According to the majority opinion of the court, the statewide zoning which would require municipalities to change their zoning laws violates due process "because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm."

Silvestri said the township does not oppose drilling, and in fact adopted a zoning ordinance that allows but limits drilling.

"We just felt there should be controls as to where the location is," said Silvestri. "Our responsibility as a local government is to do whatever we can to avoid conflicts between zoning uses to protect the health, welfare and avoid nuisances of our residents."

Judges Kevin Brobson, Anne Covey and Robert Simpson dissented, saying the seven municipalities failed to show Act 13 is unconstitutional.

Kathryn Klaber, president of drilling industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition, issued a statement in reaction to the court ruling saying that the purpose of Act 13 was to provide certainty that would encourage investment and job creation.

"Lack of uniformity has long been an Achilles' heel for Pennsylvania and must be resolved if the Commonwealth is to remain a leader in responsible American natural gas development and reap the associated economic, environmental and national security benefits," Klaber said.

Silvestri said he expects the state will appeal this ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but he hopes the legislature takes note and instead tries to adjust the law "to develop a more balanced approach to try and address the issues with the oil and gas industry."

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