Members of Protect PT with Ryan Hamilton of Fair Shake outside Courthouse in Greensburg
On May 21, 2019, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Protect PT’s request to review decisions of the Commonwealth Court, upholding the Penn Township Zoning Hearing Board’s decision to approve four unconventional well pads. This decision is known as the denial of certiorari (i.e. review). Although extremely disappointing, Protect PT and Fair Shake recognize that such denial could have been for any number of reasons that are not disclosed, and does not necessarily relate to the merits or view of the merits taken by the majority of the Commonwealth Court.1 Plainly stated, "denial of certiorari does not indicate any view on the merits."2
From this denial, Protect PT hopes municipalities across the state will more heavily consider the following issues:
Interpretation of municipal ordinances are key, so drafting language must be carefully constructed to ensure there are no ambiguities in terms of different types of toxicity that can be misconstrued in favor of the oil and gas industries. Although Penn Township interpreted definitions one way, such interpretations are not binding on other municipalities.
When drafting zoning ordinances for new industries, the new provisions must be compared to existing standards. If revisions are not made to existing standards, unintentional exceptions for new industries may result.
Residential involvement can still make a difference.
Conditions on well development were put in place by the Zoning Hearing Board, which are unlikely to be in place without citizen involvement. Such conditions include requirements for submission of all third-party permits, construction of noise barriers, ongoing noise and air quality monitoring, increased vegetation screening, lighting mitigation, traffic coordination with the local school district, and establishment of an emergency hotline for residents.
Even though such protections can serve as a guide for other municipalities, Protect PT feels, similarly to the language of the ordinance, that these protections are vaguely worded and do not go far enough to adhere to obligations imposed by the Environmental Rights Amendment (Article 1 Section 27).
Protect PT will continue to work to ensure your safety, security, and quality of life from the effects of unconventional gas development. In doing so, we would like to provide a status update for the four green level well pads:
Drakulic: 1H, 2H, and 7H permits are up for renewal
Backus: No current permits
Numis: No current permits
Deutsch: No current permits
Read Fair Shake’s Statement about the Supreme Court Denial here.
1 Breckline v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 406 Pa. 573, 178 A.2d 748 (1962)
2 Charles Allen Wright et al., 16B Fed. Prac. & Proc. Juris. § 4004.1 (3d ed. 2014)