Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules portion of shale drilling law unconstitutional

[JURIST] The Pennsylvania Supreme Court [official website] on Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] that portions of Act 13 of 2012 [materials, PDF], a statute amending the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act [text], are unconstitutional. Specifically, the court found that the act violated the Pennsylvania Constitution by placing zoning rights regarding hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" [JURIST news archive] solely in the hands of state authorities, depriving local municipalities of the power to regulate the industry. The court ruled that the limitation by the state was a violation of Article I, Section 27 of the states constitution, which guarantees the public's right to environmental preservation and natural resources:

The Commonwealth, by the General Assembly, declares in [Act 13] that environmental obligations related to the oil and gas industries are of statewide concern ... Act 13 thus commands municipalities to ignore their obligations under Article I, Section 27 and further directs municipalities to take affirmative actions to undo existing protections of the environment in their localities. The police power, broad as it may be, does not encompass such authority to so fundamentally disrupt these expectations respecting the environment.
The decision by the court will return to municipalities the power to regulate fracking through zoning laws. The court's decision also sent several issues back to the court below for review, including a challenge to provisions that would have prevented doctors from sharing certain information about health hazards related to fracking.

Fracking [JURIST backgrounder], is a highly debated topic in regions where recent Marcellus Shale gas developments have been associated with toxic water pollution. In June Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn signed into law [JURIST report] the most restrictive fracking legislation in the country, now requiring all drillers to acquire a permit from the legislature, provide frackwater samples before, after and during drilling, and store used frackwater in above-ground tanks. The New York State Assembly in March approved a two-year ban [JURIST report] on fracking, during which time a "comprehensive health impact assessment" can be conducted to identify potential public health impacts that may result from the process. The ban represents a continuation of a previous ban on fracking that has been in place in the state since 2008. Also in March, JURIST guest columnist Nicolas Parke debunked the rumors [JURIST op-ed] around fracking. In February JURIST guest columnist Samantha Peaslee detailed the future of fracking [JURIST op-ed] in Colorado in the wake of recent lawsuits against fracking companies in the state.

 

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