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Politics & Government

South Fayette to Fight State Review of Drilling Ordinance

South Fayette Township is likely to file a petition in Commonwealth Court to stop the state government from "reviewing" its ordinance to regulate Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

South Fayette Board of Commissioners President Deron Gabriel said he thinks the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) has no authority to pass judgment on the local law.

"It's likely that we'll have to file some legal action that would preserve our rights, and also would speak to our separation of powers argument, that the executive branch ... does not have the power to act as a judge and perform a judicial function of reviewing an ordinance," said Gabriel.

Gabriel said the PUC review seems to be a punitive measure taken by the Corbett administration after South Fayette and several other municipalities sued this spring to block portions of Pennsylvania's comprehensive Marcellus Shale law. In that lawsuit, a Commonwealth Court judge struck down portions of Act 13 regarding local zoning. The state government has appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; preliminary hearings for that case are scheduled for early September.

However, Gabriel argued that the Commonwealth Court decision is the law of the land until the Supreme Court appeal is finished.

"We'll probably -- more likely than not --  within the next week file a contempt petition to the Commonwealth Court, seeking to enjoin and prohibit the PUC from conducting any reviews pending this appeal," said Gabriel.

South Fayette school board member William Sray also formally requested a review of the township's drilling regulations. According to Gabriel, Sray is also a prominent local landowner who has leased property to the energy company Range Resources.

The South Fayette drilling ordinance allows for gas wells in commercial and industrial zones; however, residential areas and "conservation zones" are off limits under the law. Gabriel said that last category includes school property, parks, cemeteries, and golf courses. He said the township commissioners want to preserve that land to accommodate recent population growth.