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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Limits Municipal Oil and Gas Zoning Authority

By Michael Vennum

On June 1, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a 4 to 3 decision, held that, without first establishing a sufficient evidentiary record, a Township cannot permit oil and gas drilling in a zoning district unless that use is specifically authorized by the municipal zoning ordinance.  In Gorsline v. Fairfield Twp. Board of Supervisors, the Court stated that because the applicable zoning ordinance did not expressly authorize gas wells in any of the township's zoning districts and the gas company failed to develop a factual record related to "similarity of use," natural gas drilling cannot be presumed to be a permitted use within the township.   The Court held that, in order to permit oil and gas drilling, Fairfield Township must change its zoning ordinance to permit drilling in designated areas and set forth "whatever limitations and conditions it decides are appropriate for the protection of its citizenry."  What limitations and conditions the members of the Court deem necessary and appropriate have not yet been determined; however, that issue may be resolved in a pending case wherein the Court is reviewing the constitutional validity of the zoning ordinance of Allegheny Township, Westmoreland County.  Stay tuned for details!


Tags: Zoning, Oil and Gas, Energy, Pennsylvania

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