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State judge slaps UPC over gas drilling rules

October 26, 2012 News Extra

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission was ordered Friday by a state judge to stop reviewing or challenging municipal ordinances that affect natural gas drilling.

The ordinance reviews were created by sweeping gas-drilling legislation signed in February by Gov. Tom Corbett.

Utility commission spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher declined comment on the order by Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Keith Quigley.

Several Pittsburgh-area towns had complained that the utility commission was illegally reviewing or challenging their ordinances. They cited a Commonwealth Court ruling in July in favor of their lawsuit that the law unconstitutionally limited the ability of municipalities to control natural gas drilling activity. Under the law, a municipality loses drilling-fee revenue if its ordinances are found by the utility commission to violate the law’s limitations.

Among the most objectionable provisions cited by the towns were requirements that drilling, waste pits and pipelines be allowed in every zoning district, including residential districts, as long as certain buffers are observed.

The natural gas industry, which has invested billions of dollars in Pennsylvania beginning in 2008 to exploit the Marcellus Shale formation, the nation’s largest-known natural gas reservoir, had sought even stronger limitations than the ones approved by the Legislature.

The Corbett administration appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which heard arguments earlier this month.