Pipelines: Zoning Provisions of Act 13 Put on Hold in Pennsylvania
By Elizabeth U. Witmer and Sean T. O'Neill
Yesterday, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued an order enjoining sections of the new Oil and Gas Act ("Act 13") from taking effect as scheduled. The provisions of the Act that were enjoined preempted local zoning ordinances that regulate oil and gas operations and required local governments and municipalities to amend their ordinances to allow for reasonable development of oil and gas resources.
Pipeline companies, especially midstream and gathering line operators, should take close note of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania's April 11, 2012 Order inRobinson Township v. Commonwealth, No. 284 M.D. 2012, which enjoined certain sections of Act 13 from taking effect as scheduled on April 14, 2012. Act 13 was signed by Governor Corbett on February 14, 2012 and would have granted a measure of relief from local zoning and land development ordinances, especially with regard to compressor stations (see our Alert on the Act's impact on zoninghere.)
Zoning Provisions Enjoined
Several municipalities sought a preliminary injunction to prevent Act 13 from going into effect while its constitutionality was being challenged. Their primary concern was that there would be no local rules for oil and gas operations when the zoning provisions of Act 13 took effect if pre-existing ordinances were all preempted. The municipalities argued that additional time was needed to amend existing ordinances to comply with Act 13, as required by Section 3309 of the Act.
Senior Judge Keith Quigley held that "municipalities must have an adequate opportunity to pass zoning laws that comply with Act 13 without the fear or risk that development of oil and gas operations under Act 13 will be inconsistent with later validly passed local zoning ordinances." For that reason, he held that "pre-existing ordinances must remain in effect unless and until challenged pursuant to Act 13 and are found to be invalid." Pending further order of the Court, Judge Quigley enjoined Act 13 to the extent it could be interpreted to immediately preempt pre-existing ordinances. He also enjoined Section 3309 from taking effect for 120 days to allow municipalities additional time to amend their ordinances.
For further information about pipeline regulation in Pennsylvania, contact Elizabeth U. Witmer or Sean T. O'Neill.