Energy firms want role in next phase of shale case

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 8, 2014 at 5:09 pm •  Published: April 8, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The energy industry wants a Pennsylvania state court to let it play a formal role in sorting out the loose ends left to resolve after a landmark court decision on a new state law designed to modernize oil and gas drilling regulations.

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg over the request to intervene by the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the American Petroleum Institute.

The loose ends are left over after the state Supreme Court late last year struck down new restrictions on local governments' ability to control drilling activity in the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation.

Meanwhile, the state and other parties that are already in the case filed briefs last week that lay out their arguments about what should happen next, in advance of a hearing before the full Commonwealth Court on May 14.

Last month, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini ordered the sides to lay out the issues that remain to be resolved: whether people who use water wells should be notified if there are nearby chemical spills related to drilling; whether the Public Utility Commission must review local ordinances on the logistics of drilling; if gas transportation or storage companies still have authority to take private land; and if doctors can disclose the contents of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process to their patients and others.

None of the parties are currently claiming that the entire law must be thrown out because of the high court ruling, an issue known as severability. That means the impact fee that has been generating more than $200 million annually for drilling communities and state agencies and grant programs is likely to remain in place.

In a statement Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute said it is seeking to intervene in the case because "there are significant questions regarding the certainty of investments and ability for the natural gas industry to develop across the commonwealth."

Jordan Yeager, a lawyer for the municipalities and others who successfully challenged the law, said that if the energy industry is allowed to join the case it will have a limited impact.

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