Fracked By Zoning

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court will hear arguments on an important case on fracking, as it relates to residential zoning, this Monday.

Those who have followed fracking closely in Pennsylvania, over the past decade, recall alarming legislation that was passed by our state legislature, known as ACT 13. The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed HB1950 by a narrow margin in early February 2012, and Act 13 was signed into law February 14, 2012 by Governor Tom Corbett. One area of serious contention regarded the restrictions placed on Pennsylvania health care professionals. It violated some of the basic tenets Pennsylvania doctors are sworn to uphold regarding public health. Pennsylvania doctors had been ‘gagged’ by the legislation, when it came to sharing critical information about potential patients. 

Another onerous part of that legislation was that it essentially stripped local municipalities of their zoning rights, thereby allowing Marcellus Shale gas production activities in ALL zones, including residential neighborhoods. Imagine having industrial grade fracking, with seventeen 2,500 horsepower diesel pumps running full blast 24 7, less than 1,000 feet from your front door. Convoys of wastewater tankers travelling your small local roads, day and night, intermingled with fleets of tractor trailers hauling frack sand, that was probably strip mined in the upper Midwest. The bright light, noise, vibration and fumes, that accompany the drilling and hydraulic fracturing of Marcellus shale wells, that can be several miles deep, with as many as several dozen wells on each well pad, extending activity indefinitely. Industrial activities should only be in industrial zones, right? 

Thanks to the efforts of attorney John M. Smith of Smith Butz L.L.C. in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and others, parts of ACT 13 were overturned in the Pennsylvania courts, and many municipalities followed those decisions by revising their Oil and Gas ordinances. In Murrysville, an overlay zone was left in place that would allow gas producers like Huntley and Huntley, now known as Olympus Energy, to drill and frack unconventional wells in residential zones. 

A local citizens group, known as the Murrysville Watch Committee, filed suit against the Municipality of Murrysville’s Zoning Hearing Board, and that litigation has now reached the state’s Commonwealth Court, with a Monday morning court date scheduled. In the meantime, you can read more about the ongoing lawsuit in this May 22, 2020 newspaper story at the Tribune Review titled “Court denies appeal of Murrysville’s fracking ordinance” by Patrick Varine at

Zeus well pad

From that newspaper story we read: “Judge Smail wrote that Watch Committee members failed to meet the legal burden of showing that the ordinance “is arbitrary, unreasonable and unrelated to the public health, safety, morals and general welfare,” and that it presented no evidence “that would differentiate the ordinance … from any of the (other Pennsylvania) ordinances which were upheld on appeal.” 

You can also find more details about this case at the “Murrysville Fracking Information” web site located at

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court has provided a public link for the oral argument scheduled for Monday, May 10, 2021 at 9:30 a.m. The livestream link is through YouTube and is open to anyone from the public to view the argument. Please feel free to share the link with others. LINK:

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