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Bear in the Woods: Environmental Law Blog

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

PennFuture continues to fight irresponsible oil and gas development in Pennsylvania

On Monday, our attorneys filed a brief requesting that the Commonwealth Court uphold a lower court ruling, which would keep an unconventional shale gas well pad out of a residential community in Lycoming County. The Township had issued a conditional use permit that would have allowed the company to put this industrial development in a neighborhood zoned Residential Agricultural. Representing residents of the neighborhood before Common Pleas Court, PennFuture successfully convinced the court to reject the Township’s decision last September. The company and Township appealed that ruling to Commonwealth Court.

As this case moves through the legal system, it represents another opportunity for courts to weigh in on zoning rights, as they pertain to unconventional natural gas drilling, since the Supreme Court’s landmark 2012 decision in Robinson Township v. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In Robinson Township, the Supreme Court struck down the legislature’s attempt to override the right of municipalities to designate where these uses could occur, and it did so on the basis that municipalities not only had a right, but a duty to protect citizen's rights under Article I, Sections 1 and 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Article I, Section 1 protects citizens substantive due process rights and Article 1, Section 27 protects the right of the people “to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”

As unconventional gas drilling expands in Pennsylvania, the question of where and how it should take place continues to be debated. Evidence of unhealthy pollution from increased truck traffic and diesel generators as well as safety concerns have many residents looking to keep drilling at a safe distance from homes, schools and ecologically sensitive areas. As drillers single-mindedly seek profits, it is essential that residents have the ability to protect their health and quality of life in their communities, and zoning is a key part of that process.

Valessa Souter-Kline is western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @ValessaSK.