It was one of the many great ironies associated with controversy surrounding the issue of fracking in North Carolina that so-called conservatives opposed efforts during the 2012 legislative session to include stronger protections for landowners.
As you may recall, it was mostly conservative supporters of the fracking industry who opposed efforts to include language in fracking legislation that would have made it easier for private landowners to avoid the phenomenon known as “forced pooling” (i.e. the notion that landowners can be forced to enter into leases to sell their gas rights). Mind you, many of these same people are some of the most ardent supporters of “property rights” when it comes to things like municipal annexation.
Now comes word from Pennsylvania of a battle in which the fracking industry is butting up against another traditionally conservative ideal: local control. You see, not only does the fracking industry hate the idea of local landowners having a say about their own mineral rights, they also hate the idea of local governments having a say about how the controversial drilling process will take place in their communities.
Hence, a rather remarkable new Pennsylvania law passed at the behest of the gas and oil industry this past winter (“Act 13”) that greatly restricts the rights of localities to regulate fracking. Got it? A giant industry that’s closely aligned with conservatives got a bill passed that makes sure state law trumps the locals. I guess it’s sort of like reproductive freedom for women; conservatives are against big, centralized government power, except when they’re not.
Happily, for now, the story has a promising ending (or, at least, a promising middle). Yesterday a state appeals court threw out much of the law as an improper infringement on local zoning authority. The advocates at the group Protecting Our Waters have a nice summary of the decision and a link to the court’s opinion that you can access by clicking here,
Let’s hope the opinion and the idea it represents — namely, that the oil and gas industry cannot simply do whatever it wants when and wherever it wants — survives the expected appeal and spreads south to North Carolina ASAP.