A Pennsylvania judge has denied a request from a wealthy Pittsburgh suburb, apparently clearing the way for a controversial referendum that would ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot, according to Peters Township Marcellus Shale Awareness (PTMSA), an environmental group that drafted the proposed referendum.

Judge Paul Pozonsky found that the Washington County Court of Common Pleas lacked jurisdiction to rule on pre-election challenges to the ballot measure unless its presence on the ballot would cause immediate harm.

PTMSA had reportedly collected 2,422 signatures to have the referendum appear on the Peters Township ballot. The question asks voters if the township’s home rule charter should be amended to include a “Peters Township Bill of Rights,” which would enact an outright ban on fracking in the township.

Peters Township, located on the northern edge of Washington County, PA, had filed a petition seeking an injunction over the referendum question being on the ballot (see Shale Daily, Sept. 15). The township argued that the referendum is illegal on several grounds, including the state Oil & Gas Act, the Home Rule and Optional Plans Law and the township’s planning code.

Last week Pozonsky warned that he thought the township could face multiple lawsuits from companies and landowners if voters were to pass such a referendum (see Shale Daily, Oct. 3).

On Aug. 8 the Peters Township Council adopted a 22-page mineral extraction ordinance that set guidelines over where drilling could occur and required oil and gas companies to obtain a conditional use permit. Among the permitting requirements, applicants could not drill on parcels smaller than 40 acres and water and soil testing would need to be performed before and after drilling. Applicants would also submit transportation, road bonding and emergency plans with the township.