Range Resources Fights PA Town Ordinance, Threatens Lawsuit

Range Resources, one of the largest Marcellus Shale drillers in Pennsylvania, and the first to sink a Marcellus well in the state in 2003, is pushing back against what it calls “death by a thousand paper cuts” – townships imposing their own regulations on drilling that result in a de facto ban on drilling. Range has just filed an appeal with the zoning hearing board in South Fayette (Allegheny County), PA challenging the township’s zoning regulations prohibiting drilling. Range says if the hearing board does not reverse course, it will take the township to court. A copy of Range’s 35-page challenge filed with the hearing board is embedded below.

UPDATE: Also embedded below is a full copy of the drilling ordinance passed by South Fayette Township in 2010. Thank you to MDN reader Josh Whetzel for suggesting we include it with this article.

Range Resources made a significant move Tuesday in what is likely the first step in a legal challenge to the wave of small-town regulations on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based company filed an appeal to the zoning hearing board of South Fayette that calls its drilling ordinance an "illegal" infraction against the company’s business pursuits.

Range Resources says the township’s zoning ordinance enforces buffer zones around schools, hospitals and certain commercial areas that force a de facto moratorium on drilling throughout the entire township.

That violates the portion of Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Planning Code that requires all municipalities to "allow for reasonable development of minerals" as part of any zoning ordinance, the company said.

The matter is before the zoning hearing board because the drilling regulations involved the township’s zoning ordinance.

A date for the zoning hearing has not been set, but Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella said his company will take the issue to the Court of Common Pleas and up the legal ladder if it is rejected by the South Fayette authorities.

If Range Resources wins a ruling in a higher court, it could create a precedent and threaten to overturn scores of small-town ordinances across Pennsylvania.

Throughout Western Pennsylvania, townships have passed ordinances that further regulate drilling beyond state law or take steps to mitigate side effects like road damage or noise control.

The South Fayette ordinance enforces regulations that are already in place as part of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, and Range Resources says that regulatory double-dipping is illegal.

"[South Fayette] unlawfully seeks to achieve the same purposes and to regulate the same features of the development of oil and natural gas which are regulated exclusively and comprehensively by the Commonwealth," the appeal states.

Range Resources said the conditions of the ordinance are a "de facto taking" of land that make it impossible to drill. The company says this violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says private property cannot be taken for public use "without just compensation."*

*Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Aug 17, 2011) – Marcellus Shale driller fighting South Fayette ordinance