The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 4-3 on Thursday that Pennsylvania's new oil and gas law [Act 13 materials] violated the state's constitution by placing zoning rights regarding hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" [JURIST news archive] solely in the hands of state authorities. Fracking is the process of injecting a high pressured mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break through rock and release oil and natural gas. The court declared that Act 13 unconstitutionally infringed on local municipalities' zoning rights:
[B]y requiring municipalities to violate their comprehensive plans for growth and development, [Act 13] violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classificationsirrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise.The state of Pennsylvania has 30 days to appeal the Commonwealth Court's ruling.
Fracking has been a contentious issue both in the US and abroad. Three weeks ago, North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue vetoed a bill [SB 820 materials; JURIST report] that would have lifted the state's ban on fracking. In May, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law [JURIST report] a bill outlawing fracking in the state. In January the New Jersey Legislature passed an amendment to a bill that establishes a one-year ban on fracking [JURIST report]. Legislators re-introduced the bill this year after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed legislation last June that would have permanently banned fracking in New Jersey [JURIST report]. In October the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to develop standards [JURIST report] for wastewater discharge from fracking. Last June New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued the US government [JURIST report] for its alleged failure to study the risks of fracking. In May 2011 France's lower house approved a nationwide ban on fracking [JURIST report].