Of course no one knows for sure how the courts will ultimately rule in these cases, but there are some legal points already in play that the township might do well to consider. I'd like to share with the board a few things I've learned about zoning from the lawyers trying these cases. Granted, my grasp of these concepts may not be perfectly clear, and these lawyers may not know what they're talking about, but for what it's worth, here's what I've learned.
I've learned that, according to the Municipal Planning Code, the primary function of zoning is to promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of the community. Zoning does this by placing compatible land uses together and keeping incompatible land uses separate. One of the more obvious examples of incompatible land uses are residential and industrial land uses – these must be kept separate.
There is some debate as to whether or not shale-gas drilling is an industrial use. An opinion which the township might want to consider is that of the PA State Supreme Court, which, in its ruling against Act 13 zoning, stated repeatedly that shale-gas drilling is an industrial use which is incompatible with residential land use. To this I would add that most of the well pad explosions I've read about have occurred on pads where the wells have already been drilled and fracked and are just “sitting there harmlessly,” which is the primary argument used when portraying shale-gas drilling as a non-industrial land use.
Finally, I have learned that it is not a function of zoning to ensure the financial viability of private contracts entered into between landowners and corporations – in other words, it is not a function of zoning to make sure that people get their money from their gas leases, especially if doing so violates the primary function of zoning to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community.
As I said, no one knows for sure how the courts will rule in these cases, but it seems likely that the courts will find that local ordinances which allow shale-gas drilling in residential zones are as unconstitutional as a state law which mandated that shale-gas drilling be allowed to occur in residential zones. But however the courts rule, a year or two down the road, if Butler Township's amended ordinance is not in compliance with that ruling, the township will have to undertake this ordinance amendment process all over again, and I keep hearing how expensive that process is. So I feel it would behoove the township to consider at least the potential ruling of the courts over local popular opinion in this matter of amending the township's drilling ordinance.