Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Well Zoning Upheld in Westmoreland Court Allows Drilling Anywhere in Township

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Well Zoning Upheld in Westmoreland Court Allows Drilling Anywhere in Township

Article excerpt

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has affirmed a zoning ordinance in Allegheny Township that allows Marcellus Shale gas drilling anywhere in the semi-rural Westmoreland County municipality.

The ruling, handed down by the court Friday, is a legal setback for residents seeking to battle shale gas development by invoking the state's 1971 Environmental Rights Amendment.

Commonwealth Court, in a 5-2 decision, ruled that the township's nonrestrictive, 2010 zoning law, which allows oil and gas drilling in all zoning districts, is valid, and that several state Supreme Court decisions requiring local governments to enforce the amendment's public health, safety and welfare protections do not apply.

President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote in a 41-page opinion that concerns that the well drilling and hydraulic fracturing would cause safety or environmental problems "were not supported by evidence" and that permit conditions mitigate those risks.

The case challenging the township's zoning law was prompted by the municipality's October 2014 approval of a CNX Gas Co. shale gas well on farmland near properties owned by Dolores Frederick and two neighbors.

All the properties involved are zoned R-2, with established uses of agriculture, low-density developments and individual housing.

The appellants challenged the validity of the zoning ordinance, arguing that an unconventional gas well is not a land use compatible with agricultural-residential use, and also appealed the state permit issued to the Consol Energy subsidiary for the planned Porter Pad, which will eventually hold six wells.

Attorney Christopher Papa, who represents Ms. Frederick and neighbors Patricia Hagaman and Beverly Taylor, said he and his clients were disappointed by the court decision but were encouraged by the two dissenting opinions that embraced his arguments about the applicability of the Environmental Rights Amendment to the case. …

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