In Gorsline, et al. v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfield Township et al., No. 14-000130 (Lycoming Co. C.P., August 29, 2014), certain individuals appealed the decision of the Fairfield Township Board of Supervisors (“Fairfield”) to grant a conditional use application to Inflection Energy, LLC (“Inflection”) for the construction of an oil and gas well pad on private property located in a residential – agricultural zoned district.
In Gorsline, the Court held that Fairfield abused its discretion in approving the conditional use permit because the decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Pursuant to the local zoning ordinance, the construction and use of the well pad should only be permitted if the “the proposed use is similar to and compatible with other uses permitted in the zone where the subject property is located.” The Court concluded that the testimony and facts set forth by the Applicant were insufficient and conclusory. For example, Fairfield argued that the oil and gas facility would be similar to a power plant or wastewater treatment plant, but gave no supporting facts or testimony for that statement.
The Court also found that the Applicant failed to prove that the well pad would “in no way” conflict with the general purpose of the zoning ordinance. According to the ordinance, residential – agricultural zoning districts should encourage a quiet, medium density environment and should encourage farming. The Court found that the Applicant merely stated that the well pad would promote the general purposes of the ordinance, but failed to provide any substantial evidence for that conclusion. By contrast, the Appellants offered evidence of projected truck traffic during construction, construction and fracking noise, and potentially a very long construction and fracking time period.
Finally, the Court held that the Applicant did not satisfy its burden of persuasion and failed to show that the well pad “would not be detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare” at its proposed location. The Court pointed again to the Applicant’s evidence that discussed truck traffic, noise, lighting, and constant hours of operation. The Court also found that issues of water safety during the fracking process and radiation levels introduced by the residents were insufficiently rebutted by the Applicant.
Interestingly, the Court briefly discussed the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, to emphasize that the local zoning ordinance should not be ignored in favor of the Pennsylvania oil and Gas Act. He also stressed that, pursuant to the Robinson decision, “the citizens’ rights cannot be ignored and must be protected.” We will follow this case and post updates, as applicable.
Oil and gas development can present unique and complex issues that can be intimidating and challenging. At Houston Harbaugh, P.C., our oil and gas practice is dedicated to protecting the interests of landowners and royalty owners. From new lease negotiations to title disputes to royalty litigation, we can help. Whether you have two acres in Washington County or 5,000 acres in Lycoming County, our dedication and commitment remains the same.
We Represent Landowners in All Aspects of Oil and Gas Law
The oil and gas attorneys at Houston Harbaugh have broad experience in a wide array of oil and gas matters, and they have made it their mission to protect and preserve the landowner’s interests in matters that include:
- New lease negotiations
- Pipeline right-of-way negotiations
- Surface access agreements
- Royalty audits
- Tax and estate planning
- Lease expiration claims
- Curative title litigation
- Water contamination claims
Robert Burnett - Practice Chair
Robert’s practice is exclusively devoted to the representation of landowners and royalty owners in oil and gas matters. Robert is the Chair of the Houston Harbaugh’s Oil & Gas Practice Group and represents landowners and royalty owners in a wide array of oil and gas matters throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Robert assists landowners and royalty owners in the negotiation of new oil and gas leases as well as modifications to existing leases. Robert also negotiates surface use agreements and pipeline right-of-way agreements on behalf of landowners. Robert also advises and counsels clients on complex lease development and expiration issues, including the impact and effect of delay rental and shut-in clauses, as well as the implied covenants to develop and market oil and gas. Robert also represents landowners and royalty owners in disputes arising out of the calculation of production royalties and the deduction of post-production costs. Robert also assists landowners with oil and gas title issues and develops strategies to resolve and cure such title deficiencies. Robert also advises clients on the interplay between oil and gas leases and solar leases and assists clients throughout Pennsylvania in negotiating solar leases.
Brendan A. O'Donnell
Brendan O’Donnell is a highly qualified and experienced attorney in the Oil and Gas Law practice. He also practices in our Environmental and Energy Practice. Brendan represents landowners and royalty owners in a wide variety of matters, including litigation and trial work, and in the preparation and negotiation of:
- Pipeline right of way agreements
- Surface use agreements
- Oil, gas and mineral conveyances