Range Resources Corp. is taking a southwestern Pennsylvania township to court over zoning in the Marcellus Shale.
In a filing with the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas on Dec. 29, the Fort Worth, TX-based company appealed a recent ruling by zoning officials in South Fayette Township, just south of Pittsburgh. Range claimed South Fayette effectively prohibited drilling in the township by passing a strict ordinance in November 2010 (see Shale Daily, Nov. 22, 2010).
"The plain test of the Oil and Gas Ordinance requires an extremely elaborate and expensive application process that would take months or years to complete, may never be accepted by or acceptable to the Township as complete, and is far more burdensome than any federal or state environmental or oil and gas law," Range wrote in its legal filing. Pointing to a range of studies and plans required by the ordinance, Range argued that "once all of the restrictions are combined with the offsets, set-backs or buffers, there is no place within the Township where oil and gas development can occur."
For instance, the ordinances require drilling pads to be so long that they cannot fit into the areas zoned for drilling.
Range first challenged the ordinance in August 2011 (see Shale Daily, Aug. 18, 2011). Following two hearings in the fall, South Fayette dismissed the challenge, calling it premature because Range hadn't yet applied for or been denied any permits. Range, in its lawsuit, said it challenges the ordinance on its face because the Township could evade denying a permit indefinitely by "continually claiming over time that the application is incomplete for one reason or another."
Range leases around 4,000 acres in South Fayette, and says the ordinance constitutes "taking" of property.
In a pair of landmark cases in 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that local oversight of oil and gas operations can't conflict with state regulations, but also confirmed that local governments are allowed to zone where drilling can occur. While legislation is slowly working through the Pennsylvania General Assembly that would, as written, restrict the power of local governments, the lawsuit -- as well as Range's disputes with Cecil Township and Mt. Pleasant Township (see Shale Daily, Oct. 19, 2011) -- suggests that the matter could also play out simultaneously in the courts.
"We'd prefer to not have to take on legal battles, but either intentionally or otherwise, South Fayette has chosen to rob people of their property rights at the expense of their taxpayers," Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, referring it part to the $20,000 that South Fayette set aside to defend the ordinance against legal challenges.
Neither Pitzarella nor a solicitor for South Fayette Township could be reached for comment on Tuesday.