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Court strikes down drilling act

In a victory for communities and a punishing blow to the governor, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has ruled that local zoning boards can decide whether they want to allow oil and natural gas drilling in their area.

The court's 4-3 vote also could severely limit the property rights of some oil companies that want to drill, which had been given the go-ahead by some lawmakers, who believed that some local zoning and environmental laws could be overridden.

The governor had pushed for companies to drill in the state, hoping it would bring jobs and revenue.

A Bucks County supervisor, however, said local zoning rights should trump all. Her county, as well as six other local governments, were among the parties to challenge a state law passed in April that was passed to collect fees from drilling companies. The law addressed the drilling, storage and transporting of natural gas and oil statewide.

The law also would have allowed drilling to occur within 500 feet of buildings and water wells, within 300 feet of bodies of water and within 1,000 feet of drinking water sources. Additionally, the act mandated towns to allow drilling in districts of any zoning and said if they didn't change their laws to do so, they would lose money.

The governor's office vowed to fight, with state leaders predicting an appeal to the Supreme Court. The governor's office said the act actually protects the environment and communities by providing greater oversight.

The leader of the Marcellus Shale Coalition said the law would have provided uniformity for drilling across the state, and the issue must be solved for Pennsylvania to continue to profit from the development of natural gas.

Source: The Inquirer, "Major parts of Pa.'s natural-gas law ruled unconstitutional," Bill Reed, July 28. 2012

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