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Corbett Calls Act 13 Ruling 'Unacceptable,' Makes Plea to Operators

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett on Monday made a rare plea to the state's oil and gas operators, asking that they help to protect the Commonwealth's rivers, streams and wetlands during drilling.

In a press release issued by the Corbett administration, the governor said it would be essential to adhere to some of the critical environmental standards that many believe have been undermined with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Dec. 19 ruling that struck down key provisions of Act 13 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 20, 2013) -- a comprehensive piece of oil and gas legislation signed into law by Corbett in 2012 (see Shale Daily, Feb 15, 2012).

"The supreme court's ruling on Act 13 of 2012 set aside important buffer restrictions between drilling activity and our waterways and wetlands," Corbett said in the press release. "In doing so, the court overturned protections which I signed into law and which received strong, bipartisan support in the General Assembly. This action, which could imperil our water quality, is simply unacceptable."

The high court's ruling has left unanswered questions for many industry stakeholders. For the most part, it remains unclear if the ruling has left Act 13 without any teeth or just significantly weakened it. The court's decision returned to municipalities their ability to enforce or change zoning ordinances and diminished the state's ability to uniformly regulate the industry.

One key provision that was struck down allowed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to grant a waiver on setbacks for drilling activities near water bodies, so long as an operator submitted a plan that showed those bodies of water would not be severely impacted.

That provision was so closely intertwined with other setback and environmental regulations included in Act 13 that the court was forced to throw those out as well, leaving rural townships without their own zoning ordinances vulnerable (see Shale Daily, Dec. 27, 2013).

Corbett's plea comes at a time when the state continues to challenge the court's ruling. On Friday, the DEP and the Public Utilities Commission filed a motion for reconsideration, asking that the entire case, rather than just some parts, be remanded to a lower court for a fuller accounting of the evidence (see Shale Daily, Jan. 3).

The administration also said on Monday that Corbett has reached out to the state's leading oil and gas trade groups, including the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, asking that they help push environmental compliance under Act 13's old requirements. 

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