PA Supreme Court Holds Gas Drilling in Residential District May Require Zoning Changes
On June 1, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, held that a municipality was required to amend its zoning ordinance before it could allow natural gas operations in a residential-agricultural zoning district. Gorsline v. Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp., et al., No. 67 MAP 2016, 2018 WL 2448803 (June 1, 2018). Specifically, the Court ruled that the Fairfield Township Board of Supervisors improperly found that the drilling and operation of a natural gas well in a Residential-Agricultural (“R-A”) district was “similar to” other uses in the R-A district. Although the Township’s zoning ordinance did not specifically allow drilling, the zoning ordinance provided that when a use is not specifically permitted by the zoning ordinance, the Supervisors may permit the use if, among other things, it is “similar to and compatible with the other uses permitted in the zone where the subject property is located.” The Supervisors found that Inflection Energy, LLC’s proposed gas drilling was “similar to” other uses in the R-A district. The Commonwealth Court upheld the Supervisors’ decision, finding that the gas drilling was similar to and compatible with a “public service facility,” which is a conditional use in the R-A district, and which is defined as the “erection, construction, alteration, operation or maintenance of buildings, power plants or substations, water treatment plants or pumping stations; sewage disposal or pumping plants and other similar public service structures by a utility, whether publicly or privately owned, or by a municipal or other governmental agency, including the furnishing of electrical, gas, communication, water supply and sewage disposal services.”
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