Court Finds Pa. Gas Drilling Rule Violates State's Constitution

Court Finds Pa. Gas Drilling Rule Violates State's Constitution

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Thursday that several provisions of Act 13, signed last year by Gov. Tom Corbett to overhaul the state’s oil and gas laws, violates the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The court ruled 4-2 that Act 13 violates Section 27 of the declaration of rights in Pennsylvania’s constitution, which states that citizens have a right to clean air, pure water and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.

Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille noted that “we agree with the citizens that, as an exercise of the police power, Sections 3215(b)(4) and (d), 3303, and 3304 are incompatible with the Commonwealth’s duty as trustee of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources.”

Justices Castille, Debra McCloskey Todd and Seamus P. McCaffrey stated in the ruling that Act 13’s zoning provisions, which require local state government to authorize oil and gas operations, including seismic testing, and natural gas compressor stations and processing plants, that the provisions “sanctioned a direct and harmful degradation of the environmental quality of life in these communities and zoning districts.”

Local governments also are not allowed to impose conditions on the construction of oil and gas operations more stringent than those on construction activities for other industrial uses. They also are prohibited from limiting subterranean operations and hours and operations for assembling and disassembling drilling rigs, and for operating gas wells. Local governments that do not comply with Act 13’s requirements face financial consequences, the ruling noted.

The justices noted that the restrictions placed on oil and gas well locations in relation to sensitive water resources, including wetlands or certain streams or bodies of water, could be averted through distance restriction waivers by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Requiring a local government to permit industries uses in all zoning districts means that some properties and communities will carry a much heavier environmental and habitability burdens than others.

Pointing to Pennsylvania’s notable history of shortsighted exploitation of its resources such as coal that have affected the environment – which led to the development of the Environmental Rights Amendment – the justices noted that, in their view, the authors of the Environmental Rights Amendment intended the constitution as a bulwark against enactments like Act 13 that permit development with such an immediate, disruptive effective on local citizens’ lives.


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Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at


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Keith Patton | Dec. 23, 2013
Another example of liberal activist courts. In this case, they ignored science and bowed to fear mongering that has become both the bread and butter of the liberal eco-leftists. I find it sad and humorous that Pennsylvania the birthplace of the modern petroleum industry will be the last to benefit from the new boom, if it ever does. I would like to point out that the Independent oil producers are the driving force behind the US Oil Shale boom. They are also the defenders of oil free markets. They have the ability to sell US shale oil crude to whoever is willing to pay the highest prices. That means if it costs more to pipe the oil to Pennsylvanian refineries than it does to Japanese or Chinese tankers then the Pennsylvanians will continue to pay for Saudi or Venezuelian crude. If they are not willing to produce the oil beneath their feet, then why should any other state compromise their "environment" for the benefit of Pennsylvania? As the old saying from the 1980s said, "let them freese in the dark come next winter" or at least pay higher fuel and gas prices. I wont even mention all the high paying jobs they are missing out of.

Jt goldsby | Dec. 21, 2013
All of the people in PA. Who oppose drilling activities there should drive Electric cars and heat their houses with firewood only. The people from Texas and Louisiana are sick and tired of the people from these states That raise issues about this subject. If you dont want it, dont use it


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