A divided Pennsylvania state appellate court has ruled that a state law which forbade municipalities from limiting where natural gas drilling can occur within their boundaries is unconstitutional. Robinson Twp. v. Commonwealth, No. 284 M.D. 2012 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 7/26/12). According to the court’s four-member majority, the state’s Act 13, enacted in February 2012, illegally overrides local zoning power by requiring municipalities to allow oil and gas drilling in all zones, including residential districts. Declaring the law null and void, the court stated, “[w]e hold that [the act] violates substantive due process because it allows incompatible uses in zoning districts and does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm.”
The three-judge dissent said that Act 13 was within the state’s police power and “does not eviscerate local land use planning” or “give carte blanche to the oil and gas industry to ignore local zoning ordinances.” They also noted that because the Marcellus Shale, where hydraulic fracturing would occur, extends well beyond any one municipality, a statewide solution is required. According to press reports, the state has appealed the ruling. See The New York Times, July 27, 2012; and Jurist, July 27 and 29, 2012.