Monday, December 23, 2013

Environmental Advocates Hail Court Ruling on PA Oil and Gas Act

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A law promoted by Governor Tom Corbett and the natural gas industry as a way to regulate oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania has been ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. Act 13 created uniform standards for drilling to be applied anywhere in the state. The court's 4-2 decision keeps more of the control in that decision-making process with municipalities, according to Adam Garber, field director for PennnEnvironment.

"It means now that local communities can decide to establish their own protections, so they could now say, 'There will be no drilling in residential parts of our area or within two miles of a school.'"

Industry officials said the ruling is a missed opportunity to develop and operate shale gas wells in Pennsylvania responsibly, while Corbett and many other Republicans in the Legislature have called the decision disappointing.

Garber said that, in its ruling, the Supreme Court also addressed the state's relationship with the natural gas industry.

He said the Court was "even saying that they are singling out the gas drilling industry for basically unprecedented power and exceptions to our existing zoning laws and environmental rules, and that that, for the benefit of one particular industry, is unacceptable legally."

Garber said the decision carries even greater weight for the long term.

"The Supreme Court has put real teeth behind the Environmental Rights Act, saying that the Legislature has to seriously consider the health environmental impact and whether they are doing a good job being stewards of our natural resources, and that if they don't do that, the court's going to do it for them."

The state Department of Environmental Protection reports Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale formation deep underground produced more than 1.4 trillion cubic feet of gas during the first half of 2013, up 57 percent from the same time period last year.

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