The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

December 19, 2013

Court axes parts of drilling law

Four justices side with municipalities

HARRISBURG — The highest court in Pennsylvania, heart of the country’s natural gas drilling boom, on Thursday struck down significant portions of a law that limited the power of local governments to determine where the industry can operate – rules the industry sought from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and lawmakers.

In a 4-2 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the industry-friendly rules set out by the 2012 law violated the state constitution, although the majority did not entirely agree on why they were unconstitutional.

State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, welcomed the ruling, saying, “It’s important to give the local communities certain controls, especially when it comes to protecting their own water supplies.”

What’s more, Wozniak said, the ruling will reopen discussion on overall regulations for the drilling industry.

“This will require us to create remedial legislation that opens Act 13 back up,” he said, noting that bipartisan legislation was introduced this week to create a 4.9 percent drilling tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas.

The tax would be a simpler way for taxpayers to benefit from the booming industry, as opposed to what Wozniak called the “convoluted” impact fees included in another section of the law affected by Thursday’s court ruling.

Wozniak admits there was not enough support to include an extraction tax during debate on the law last year.

“Things have changed since that last happened, so stay tuned,” he said.

Seven municipalities had challenged the 2012  law that grew out of the state’s need to modernize 20-year-old drilling laws to account for a Marcellus Shale drilling boom made possible by innovations in drilling and technology, most notably hydraulic fracturing. The process, also called fracking, has drawn widespread criticism from environmentalists and many residents living near drilling operations.

“Few could seriously dispute how remarkable a revolution is worked by this legislation upon the existing zoning regimen in Pennsylvania, including residential zones,” wrote Chief Justice Ron Castille. He said the law’s rules represented an unprecedented “displacement of prior planning, and derivative expectations, regarding land use, zoning, and enjoyment of property.”

The 2012 law restricted local municipalities’ ability to control where companies may place rigs, waste pits, pipelines and compressor and processing stations. The new zoning rules have never gone into effect because of a court order. A narrowly divided lower court struck them down in 2012, but Corbett appealed, saying lawmakers have clear authority to override local zoning.

Among the objectionable provisions cited by the lawsuit were requirements that the high-impact operations be allowed in every zoning district, including residential areas, as long as buffers were observed.

“We must not allow today’s ruling to send a negative message to job creators and families who depend on the energy industry,” Corbett said.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • Cause of West End fire still undetermined

    The cause of a five-alarm fire early Monday morning at a vacant structure on the 500 block of Dorothy Avenue in Johnstown’s West End has not yet been determined.

    July 22, 2014

  • Former worker, pal jailed in Logan Township thrift store robbery

    A former employee and another man have been jailed on charges they robbed a Blair County thrift store, a crime foiled when a current employee told police she recognized the first masked suspect’s voice.

    July 22, 2014

  • Rents change with new rules

    A change in federal housing regulations raises the rent for 28 public housing tenants and reduces the rent for 29 tenants in Johnstown Housing Authority communities.

    July 21, 2014

  • Memorial programs recognized

    A national hospital ranking report recognizes Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center as high performing in four categories.

    July 21, 2014

  • Residents seek Sonman memorial

    Relatives of workers involved in one of the biggest mine disasters in the region’s history are working to keep the victims’ memories from fading. Next year marks the 75th anniversary of the 1940 Sonman Mine explosion, which claimed 63 lives.

    July 21, 2014

  • Tribune Treasure!

    July 22, 2014

  • Foul play ruled out in train fatality

    Foul play has been ruled out in the death of a Windber man found struck by a train near Seward early Sunday, investigators say.

    July 21, 2014

  • Correction 07/22/2014

    July 21, 2014

  • Concussion prevention project progressing

    A Johnstown-area hospital and school district are a step ahead of the president's call for more research into sports injuries, having developed a groundbreaking concussion-prevention program aimed at helping all athletes, particularly students, avoid brain injuries.

    July 21, 2014

  • Local briefs 7/22/2014

    July 21, 2014

Poll

What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
House Ads