Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said his state is appealing a court ruling that yesterday invalidated parts of a law easing energy development of the Marcellus Shale formation.
The formation, which lies beneath parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia has an estimated 400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, one of the largest such formations in the world, trade associations have said. The gas is extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania struck down a requirement that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection waive water and wetland set-back restrictions for well-site construction and drilling in certain circumstances. In a 4-3 ruling, the judges also invalidated a provision requiring uniformity of local ordinances governing resource development.
Each provision was found unconstitutional. The setback provision doesn’t provide guidance to the environmental regulatory agency on “its discretion to decide to waive the distance requirements,” effectively giving it legislative power to make those decisions, the court said.
“The provisions struck down by the Commonwealth Court are critically important for job creators who are employing more than 240,000 Pennsylvanians,” for landowners and for local governments seeking guidance on energy-resource development, Corbett said today in a press statement.
Corbett, a first-term Republican and former state attorney general, said the legislation was “the result of months of compromise and negotiation, with significant input and support” from the state’s local government associations.
Seven municipalities, an environmental defense group and a physician were among who filed suit against the state.
The Commonwealth Court panel rejected eight of the plaintiffs’ claims, while ruling in their favor on four others.
Dissenting on the uniformity issue, Judge Kevin Brobson said that portion of the law was written to optimize development of the state’s oil and gas resources “wherever those resources are found.”
“The natural resources of this commonwealth exist where they are without regard to any municipality’s comprehensive plan,” Brobson said.
The case is Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 284 MD 2012, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg).