Judge keeps gas industry, Republicans out of Marcellus lawsuit

Judge keeps gas industry, Republicans out of Marcellus lawsuit

April 20, 2012 4:40 pm
By Karen Langley / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Property owners living near the site of a gas well operation that caught fire in Washington County PA Wednesday morning said they had been trying for days to reach state officials about noxious odors at the site.
George Zimmerman, who owns the property where an Atlas Energy wastewater impoundment pond caught fire on Wednesday, and neighbor Kyle Lengauer, said they experienced a "horrendous gas smell" in the days leading up to the fire, but they couldn't reach state officials to warn them.
"We actually left our house on Sunday because the fumes were so bad and we were so nauseated," said Mr. Lengauer, whose lives with his wife and two children on property that abuts Mr. Zimmerman's 480 acres in rural Hopewell.
Both men said they heard a loud explosion at about 8 a.m. Wednesday and saw an impoundment pond on fire with clouds of black smoke.
"I saw about a 100-foot flame -- you could see it seven miles away," said Mr. Zimmerman, who is embroiled in a lawsuit he filed against Moon-based Atlas Energy last year, alleging that the company "ruined his land with toxic chemicals," such as arsenic and benzene, used in hydraulic gas well fracturing."

HARRISBURG — A Commonwealth Court judge has denied a request by the gas-drilling industry and top Republican legislators to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s new Marcellus Shale law.

Senior Judge Keith B. Quigley wrote in a decision today that the legislators do not have a “legally enforceable interest” in defending the intent behind their law. He wrote that the interests of the industry will be represented by the state as it defends the constitutionality of the law.

The judge turned down requests to participate in the case by Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Sam Smith, as well as those by a collection of industry trade associations and companies.

Officials from seven municipalities, along with a Monroeville doctor and members of the Delaware Riverkeepers Network, have filed a suit arguing the the law constrains their ability to protect residents by how they craft zoning rules. Last week, Judge Quigley granted a 120-stay to the portion of the law affecting local zoning rules.

The remainder of the law went into effect on Saturday.

Earlier this week, attorneys for the legislators and the industry groups argued in court that they should be able to participate in the case.

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141.

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