Challenge of drilling law filed

Posted March 30, 2012

Observe-Reporter

A widely anticipated lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Act 13, which regulates oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania, was filed Thursday in Commonwealth Court.

Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson and Peters townships in Washington County are among the petitioners in the suit, which argues that Act 13 was enacted solely to benefit the oil and gas industry, has created a "one-size-fits-all" local zoning standard that prevents communities from protecting homes or businesses and stops medical professionals from sharing information on chemicals used in the drilling process.

The plaintiffs are asking for a preliminary injunction to prevent Act 13 from officially becoming law April 14.

Other parties in the suit are South Fayette Township in Allegheny County; the Bucks County borough of Yardley; Nockamixon Township, also in Bucks County; the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental organization dedicated to the protection of the Delaware River; and Mehernosh Khan, a Monroeville doctor.

The law was approved by the General Assembly in February and signed shortly thereafter by Gov. Tom Corbett. It creates a statewide set of rules regarding oil and gas drilling. Leaders in the burgeoning Marcellus Shale natural gas industry have applauded Act 13, saying it gives uniformity and predictability to their work. However, municipal officials in many parts of the state have argued the health and safety of their residents and property values in their communities have been swept aside, in the words of the suit, "to elevate the interests of out-of-state oil and gas companies" and the owners of mineral rights.

The suit also claims "municipalities can expect hundreds of wells, numerous impoundments, miles of pipelines, several compressor and processing plants, all within (their) borders, they will be left to plan around rather than for orderly growth."

Eric Shirk, a spokesman for the governor, said no one in his office had seen the lawsuit, "but we worked closely with local governments, including the Pennsylvania State Association of Township supervisors, and we're confident the law will withstand judicial scrutiny."

When he signed the bill Feb. 14, Corbett said Act 13 would provide "increased uniformity and fairness of local regulations while preserving local government's traditional zoning authority."

Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a natural gas advocacy group, said Act 13 "strengthens environmental regulations, provides a new stream of revenue to local governments and was developed with a broad set of stakeholders ..."

Municipalities have 120 days after Act 13 goes into effect to bring their local ordinances into compliance with the state law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Copyright Observer Publishing Co.