Land & Renewables Connection

Renewable energy, zoning and land use issues will shape the future of growth in the region. Houston Harbaugh’s Renewable Energy, Zoning and Land Use practice focuses on assisting clients maximize and protect the value of their properties, whether related to renewable energy, commercial or residential development opportunities.

Can A Solar Farm Be A Nuisance?

Solar energy generating facilities offer new ways for property owners to monetize their land. But what about the impacts of solar farms on adjoining property owners? Can a...
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Spot Zoning

“Spot Zoning” is an unlawful use of the police power by government. Brendan A. O’Donnell examines Spot Zoning and its relationship to lawful zoning activities in this video.
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Solar Leases Are Long-Term Commitments for Landowners

As companies propose solar leases in areas of western and northern Pennsylvania that have experienced decades of oil and gas development, property owners may hear the familiar statement...
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Does Pennsylvania’s Carbon Sequestration Bill Negatively Impact Private Property Rights?

On April 8, 2024, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 831 (“SB 831”), the “Carbon Capture and Sequestration Act”. The legislation is not the law; it now moves...
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Commonwealth Court Sends Drilling Waste Injection Well Case Back to Zoning Hearing Board

In Plum Borough v. Zoning Hearing Board of the Borough of Plum,____ A.3d ____ , No. 1198 CD 2022 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Jan. 29, 2024), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth...
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Solar Farm Zoning Case Confirms Primacy of Ordinance Terms

In Brookview Solar I, LLC v. Mount Joy Township Board of Supervisors, 305 A.3d 1222 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2023), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court agreed with a lower court...
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Federal Court Rules That Coal Mining Contractor Cannot Assert Mechanics’ Lien Against Surface Owner

In November 2022, the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania rendered its Opinion in Anderson Excavating, LLC v. Weiss World, L.P., 638 F. Supp....
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What is a Variance?

While municipal zoning ordinances establish both the types of land uses authorized in areas of a community and the standards associated with those uses, a variance is a...
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Will Cryptocurrency and Data Mining Add New Complexity to Oil & Gas Zoning?

Questions about the zoning of oil and gas development operations have persisted in Pennsylvania for years. Now, cryptocurrency and data mining operations may create new wrinkles in long-running...
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Who Owns the Produced Water From Oil & Gas Operations?

Although historically viewed as a waste, produced water that comes to the surface as part of the oil and gas production stream now potentially has value. Produced water...
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Could a Proposed New York Carbon Dioxide Injection Program Work In Pennsylvania?

A company in New York is attempting to secure leases to allow it to produce oil and gas and to use the leased land for a carbon dioxide...
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Is This the Year for Community Solar Legislation in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania has no legislation authorizing community solar projects and is one of a small handful of states without any community solar projects. On November 13, 2023, House Bill...
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Being “Grandfathered In” - What Are Pre-Existing Nonconforming Uses?

In most areas of life, if the law changes, people must change their conduct to make sure that they comply with the law. But, many people have heard...
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Proposed Pennsylvania Solar Energy Legislation Shines Light on Legislators’ Perspectives

Oil and gas development has provided an economic benefit to Pennsylvania’s rural landowners and solar energy development offers substantial benefits as well. Undoubtedly, oil and gas development impacts...
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What is a Special Exception?

Municipal zoning codes in Pennsylvania often identify particular land uses as special exceptions in certain zoning districts. Although sometimes incorrectly called a “special exemption”, “[a] special exception is...
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What is a Conditional Use?

A conditional use is a type of land use under Pennsylvania law. While its name may suggest a level of uncertainty about whether that land use is allowed,...
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Repurposing Oil and Gas Wells for Renewable Energy in Pennsylvania Raises Multiple Legal Issues

The potential for repurposing old oil and gas wells for renewable energy raises a number of complex legal issues in Pennsylvania. In recent years, the federal government has...
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About Us

These are cutting edge legal issues. The law of the future. Renewable energy, zoning and land use issues will shape the future of growth in the region. Houston Harbaugh’s Renewable Energy, Zoning and Land Use practice focuses on assisting clients maximize and protect the value of their properties, whether related to renewable energy, commercial or residential development opportunities.

As renewable energy becomes more reliable, efficient, inexpensive and technologies associated with carbon capture and storage advance, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio are in position to benefit from these two parallel energy development opportunities. The region’s geographic location and existing infrastructure presents unique opportunities for property owners to participate in solar, wind, geothermal, other renewable energy developments, as well as for carbon capture, carbon sequestration and carbon storage projects. Additionally, legacy oil, gas and coal infrastructure may be repurposed and reused in connection with new energy developments.

With any development, whether renewable energy, commercial or residential, there are a host of zoning and land use issues that directly impact the most basic parts of daily life of both individuals and communities. Determining where and how land can be developed impacts property ownership, property value, quality of life and the economic development and wellbeing of communities. Zoning and land use issues are, on one hand, matters of local concern but, on the other hand, potentially subject to county or state regulations.

The Renewable Energy, Zoning and Land Use practice draws on Houston Harbaugh attorneys’ experience in energyoil and gas and real property matters to advance clients’ interests in both transactional and litigation matters. Houston Harbaugh’s Renewable Energy, Zoning and Land Use attorneys assist clients with matters including:

  • Solar energy leases;
  • Wind energy leases;
  • Pore space ownership for carbon capture / carbon sequestration / carbon storage, geothermal and waste disposal;
  • Ownership of legacy oil, gas and coal infrastructure for repurposing/renewable energy usage;
  • Compliance with existing solar, wind and renewable energy leases;
  • Surface and subsurface accommodation between competing land uses;
  • Variance, Special Exception and Conditional Uses applications/hearings;
  • Land use appeals;
  • Eminent domain
Head shot photo of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Lawyer Brendan O'Donnell at Houston Harbaugh

Brendan A. O'Donnell

An attorney in Houston Harbaugh’s Oil and Gas Practice, Brendan O’Donnell has represented oil and gas owners across Pennsylvania in a wide array of oil and gas matters for over a decade. This experience has involved not only the Marcellus shale and the Utica shale, but more traditional oil and gas development as well.

Brendan maintains a diverse practice, representing clients in all matters involving oil and gas spanning the transactional and litigation realms. On the transactional front, Brendan routinely assists landowners with negotiating oil and gas leases, pipeline rights of way and surface use agreements and subsurface easements related to horizontal drilling as part of Marcellus and Utica shale development.  Brendan also frequently reviews royalty statements and oil and gas ownership issues as well as preparing deeds and title curative documents. Brendan also maintains an active litigation practice, representing clients in state and federal courts, as well as private arbitration matters. This litigation often involves title disputes, pooling and unitization challenges, lease termination questions and royalty/ post-production cost claims.

Assisting clients across the spectrum from contract negotiations through litigation and appeals gives Brendan valuable first-hand knowledge about how oil and gas agreements are prepared, how disputes arise and how courts resolve these issues. Brendan stays up-to-date on developments in oil and gas law and writes frequently on the these topics. Additionally, as alternative energy generation like wind and solar are increasingly being developed in oil and gas producing regions, Brendan assists clients with navigating the interplay between these complex energy developments and evaluating solar agreements.

Brendan complements his oil and gas practice by representing property owners, including oil and gas owners, in zoning and land use matters. Brendan has represented clients before municipal bodies and in appeals to court. Brendan is also active in the firm’s Energy and Environmental Law Practice.

Regardless of the type of representation, Brendan prides himself in providing clients with realistic, pragmatic advice. Hiring an attorney is an investment and Brendan focuses on how he can provide value to clients.

Outside of the office, Brendan serves on the Town of McCandless Planning Commission and lives with his family in McCandless. Brendan has visited every one of Allegheny County’s 130 municipalities.