Wiggle Room for Local Regulation of Marcellus Gas Drilling, or Potentially Reversible Error?

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On July 22, 2010, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania decided Penneco Oil Company v. The County of Fayette, Pennsylvania,1 holding that a local "zoning" ordinance targeting natural gas drilling is not preempted by Pennsylvania's Oil and Gas Act. At first blush, the Commonwealth Court appears to have merely followed the lead of the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions in Huntley & Huntley, Inc. v. Borough Council of the Borough of Oakmont and Range Resources v. Salem Township,2 decisions that respect local government authority to restrict, for aesthetic reasons, the locations where natural gas wells can be installed. On closer review, it appears that local governments have been given room, without definite boundaries, to restrict natural gas drilling as they deem necessary in order to "protect the public's health, safety and welfare."

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