PA Supreme Court Issues Victory for Residents in Fracking Case

June 1, 2018 (PHILADELPHIA, Pa.) –The PA State Supreme Court announced today a long-awaited victory for two families in Lycoming County who challenged a decision that allowed an industrial shale gas development to be located in their residential zoned neighborhood.
The case, Gorsline et al. v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfield Township v. Inflection Energy LLC et al., completes a multi-year journey by PennFuture, Brian and Dawn Gorsline, and their neighbors, Paul and Michele Batkowski. PennFuture began representing the two families in January 2014, when it filed an appeal on their behalf of the Township’s issuance of a conditional use permit for the proposed well pad, which was to be located within a few thousand feet of their homes. Judge Marc Lovecchio of Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas sided with the local residents and overturned the Township’s decision, but the Township and Inflection sought review of that Court’s decision before Commonwealth Court. After the Commonwealth Court issued its decision, PennFuture sought review of the case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“The Court’s decision makes clear that shale gas development is an industrial land use, and that local government must rigorously consider what other land uses it is compatible with before allowing it to occur in districts designed for incompatible uses, such as a district designed to foster a quiet residential environment,” said PennFuture Vice President of Legal Affairs George Jugovic, Jr., who argued the case before the PA State Supreme Court in March 2017.
“My family, neighbors and I are so very thankful that the court made the right decision for the health of our community,” said Dawn Gorsline. “I’m grateful that PennFuture continues to fight the good fight.”
The ruling overturns a Commonwealth Court decision that had held that industrial shale gas development was similar to a “public service facility,” and therefore could be located in virtually any zoned district that allowed for public services, such as sewage water facilities, including in the R-A District at issue in this case.  
The Court today squarely rejected that analysis, stating that industrial shale gas development was not “in any material respect” similar to any of the uses allowed in Fairfield Township’s R-A District.
“We were so very pleased to have been able to represent and obtain a victory for the Gorsline and Batkowski families,” said Jugovic. “We believe that this victory will provide hope and guidance to other residents who choose to rely on local government zoning to protect expectations they had when they purchased property.”
PennFuture is leading the transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania and beyond. We are protecting our air, water and land, and empowering citizens to build sustainable communities for future generations. For more information, visit www.pennfuture.org.
Stephanie Rex, Director of Communications, PennFuture