Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Top Court Again Weighs Zoning for Marcellus Shale

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Top Court Again Weighs Zoning for Marcellus Shale

Article excerpt

PHILADELPHIA - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a Marcellus Shale zoning case that could have broad implications for how municipal governments decide which of their land use districts are appropriate for oil and gas drilling.

The case, Brian Gorsline v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfield Township v. Inflection Energy, has been closely watched because of its potential to influence shale gas development far outside of the Lycoming County community at its center. But during the session Wednesday the justices appeared inclined to keep a tailored focus.

Four residents, represented by the environmental organization PennFuture, challenged Fairfield Township's decision to allow Marcellus Shale wells as a conditional use in an area zoned for residential and agricultural uses. They argue that the township disregarded its own zoning commitments by introducing industrial drilling into a residential district designed to preserve its quiet character.

A Lycoming County court judge sided with the residents, but the Commonwealth Court reversed that decision. The appeals court reasoned that a shale gas well is similar to types of facilities that provide a broad public service - such as a power substation or a water treatment plant - that can generally be located in any zone.

The case offers the high court an opportunity to further define the scope of its 2013 landmark decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth that wiped out a provision of the state's drilling law requiring shale gas development to be allowed in all zoning districts.

The Gorsline case has drawn an array of friend of the court briefs from industry groups, chambers of commerce, environmental organizations and local governments hoping to guide the court's direction.

Some municipal parties in the Robinson Township case wrote that their case restored to municipalities the power to make local decisions about where to allow drilling, but did not give local governments the discretion to allow it everywhere. …

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