A official said that while a recent challenge filed by Range Resources against neighboring South Fayette Township over its Marcellus Shale drilling ordinance will have the board of supervisors watching, it won’t deter them from continuing to consider a change in the way drilling is regulated in the community.
“The board still believes it needs to proceed through the process,” township Manager Don Genusso said Tuesday, held to determine whether the township will change its ordinance to make drilling a conditional use.
The township’s current ordinance allows it as a permitted use.
Southpointe-based Range Resources on Tuesday filed a notice of challenge of validity of South Fayette’s ordinance governing oil and gas drilling.
The 35-page document, filed on behalf of the company by its attorney, Kenneth Komoroski, contends that “Range is being deprived of its legal right to develop its oil and natural gas property interests.”
Range contends that portions of the ordinance are pre-empted by state law, and that the township is acting outside its authority by restricting oil and natural gas drilling activity through various conditions.
“While the oil and gas ordinance purports to potentially allow oil and gas development in six zoning districts within the township, the conditions of the oil and gas ordinance (most of which are pre-empted and several of which are unconstitutionally vague or ambiguous, providing the township with ‘virtually unbridled discretion’ to deny a conditional use application) actually prohibits all oil and gas development within the township, thereby depriving, without compensation, Range and the oil and gas lessors of property rights that are valued, in combination, at nearly $200 million,” the document indicated.
Komoroski has warned Cecil supervisors throughout the public hearing process in that community that many of the provisions being mulled by the board also pre-empt state law—and at one point said, if approved, they would be actionable.
But Genusso said Tuesday that the board “is cognizant that it has to step gingerly” around state law, and added that supervisors’ next meeting about the conditional-use provisions will be held next month.
Another public hearing regarding a natural gas development overlay district will be held Sept. 6, as well.
Regarding the challenge, Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon:
"Range—and the rest of the industry—is working with municipalities to responsibly drill for natural gas. Due to a lack of statewide standards, some have taken extreme and illegal measures like South Fayette. Sadly, these decisions leave us no choice but legal action, which is costly for local governments," he said. "It’s like needing a new driver’s license for every township, each with a different set of rules and in some places they’ve even banned cars. We want local regulations that demand a high standard for gas drilling, but they must be reasonable and predictable so that communities, regulators and the industry can plan accordingly for the betterment of all Pennsylvanians."
South Fayette Commissioner Deron Gabriel, however, thinks the township’s ordinance is “fair and reasonable” and will withstand any legal challenge. Gabriel also questioned whether two of the three members on the zoning hearing board, who he said have leases with Range, will be allowed to hear the challenge.
“I’m confident our ordinance will stand up to scrutiny,” Gabriel said. “I feel the laws support us. I do not thing there is merit (in the challenge).”
He added that it’s important for the township to protect the residential zones because new neighborhoods are continuing to be developed. He thinks the majority of South Fayette residents want their local government to protect their health, safety and property values from Marcellus Shale drilling.
Chartiers Valley Patch Editor Mike Jones contributed to this report.