Shale Daily / NGI All News Access

Pennsylvania Municipalities Challenge Override of Local Oil, Gas Control

Seven Pennsylvania municipalities filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging a new state law which gives shale gas-rich counties the ability to impose a 15-year impact fee on unconventional gas wells, claiming that it supersedes local authority over drilling and violates the state and U.S. Constitution.

The municipalities, located primarily in southwestern part of the state -- Robinson Township, Township of Nockamixon, South Fayette Township, Peters Township, Cecil Township, Mt. Please Township and the Borough of Yardley -- brought the lawsuit, along with environmental activists from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, a few township officials and a doctor from Monroeville, PA.

It named as defendants the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Robert F. Powelson, chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission; Attorney General Linda L. Kelly, and Michael L. Krancer, secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection.

In the lawsuit, which was filed in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg, PA, the parties called for the court to enjoin the implementation of the new Marcellus drilling law, known as Act 13. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed Act 13 into law on Feb. 14, and most of the provisions will take effect on April 16 (see Shale Daily, Feb. 15).

Act 13 provides for new well fees to be assessed and collected on unconventional wells; a formula for distribution of the fees; substantial revisions to environmental protections for both surface and subsurface activities; and restrictions on the the authority of local governments to impose burdens on oil and gas activities beyond those required by the state.

"By attempting to preempt and supersede local regulation of oil and gas operations, the Pennsylvania General Assembly, through Act 13, has assumed the power to zone for oil and gas operations, which is manifested through the promulgation of a uniform set of land-use regulations governing oil and gas operations through the Commonwealth," the complaint said.

"By crafting a single set of statewide zoning rules applicable to oil and gas drilling...the Pennsylvania General Assembly provided much sought-after predictability for the oil and gas development industry. However, it did so at the expense of the predictability afforded to petitioners and the citizens of Pennsylvania whose health, safety and welfare, community development objectives, zoning districts and concerns regarding property values were pushed aside to elevate the interest of out-of-state oil and gas companies and the owners of hydrocarbons underlying each property," it said.

The new law gives the "oil and gas industry special treatment and essentially [exempts] it from the local zoning controls and regulatory procedures otherwise applicable to all other applicants seeking to develop land within a municipality," the municipalities said in their lawsuit.

In addition, the law violates the Pennsylvania Constitution by "denying municipalities the ability to carry out their constitutional obligation to protect public natural resources."

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