A gas drilling action group in Peters Township, PA wants to place an amendment to their home rule charter on the next election ballot. The amendment would ban natural gas drilling within the township’s boundaries. The township sought an injunction to prevent the inclusion of the question on the ballot. However, a judge dismissed the township’s case, holding that the court had no jurisdiction to get involved with elections unless there was “some immediate harm caused.” [Note: This sounds more like standing than jurisdiction. Stay tuned for a more detailed update.]
It has been held that municipalities do not have the authority to ban natural gas drilling through zoning. The twin cases of Huntley and Huntley v. Borough of Oakmont and Range Resources v. Salem Township, when read together, allow zoning ordinances to decide where gas drilling can occur, but not how. Furthermore, they cannot regulate any issue covered by the state’s Oil and Gas Act. Bans have been held to regulate the issue of permission to drill, which is covered by the Act.
However, a curious question remains as to whether an amendment to a township’s home rule charter will be treated the same way as a zoning ordinance. In terms of hierarchy, the Oil and Gas Act – being a state law – should still pre-empt any local laws. But, municipalities are given their authority through other state laws such as the Municipalities Planning Code (on an equal level with the Oil and Gas Act), and through the Pennsylvania Constitution (on a higher level). Does this give any special weight to a home rule charter?
The election in Peters Township happens in November of 2011. If the amendment passes and is enacted, it will almost certainly be challenged in court.