The Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to reconsider a ruling that protects local zoning rules targeting oil and gas drillers, which could mean new limits on Marcellus Shale developers. In December, the court ruled that sections of the controversial Act 13 that preempted local zoning of oil and gas operations violated Pennsylvania’s constitution. Governor Tom Corbett asked the court to reconsider, but was denied.

The decision gives local municipalities the authority to regulate drilling and decide where operations can be sited. Act 13 had aimed to create statewide laws governing the gas drilling industry.

Without Act 13, gas drillers should look to the Supreme Court’s 2009 rulings in Range Resources – Appalachia v. Salem Township, which determined that municipalities can’t regulate drilling already controlled by the state’s Oil and Gas Act, and Huntley & Huntley v. Borough of Oakmont, which held that the Oil and Gas Act does not preempt local laws and that the local laws could limit the location of wells.

“If we go back in our time machine before Act 13, we would be having the same discussion,” said Harry Weiss, a partner in Ballard Spahr’s Philadelphia office. “You proceed under Huntley and should be advised to try to work with the municipality up front to make sure that you don’t get to the end of the process and find out your location isn’t going to be approved.”

Industry experts expect the ruling to give life to new political and legal battles. 


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Environment and Natural Resources