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Orie Melvin State Supreme Court Vacancy Has Impact On Drilling

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The impact of the conviction and resignation of former Justice Joan Orie Melvin is already being felt with a stalled decision on a matter of vital importance.

"This effect the health, safety and welfare of our communities. It protects the children," said Deron Gabriel, the commissioner of South Fayette.

Act 13, which says that oil and gas rights trump local zoning codes, would allow drilling within 300 feet of residential neighborhoods and schools like South Fayette Elementary.

Without Melvin, justices on the court have hinted that they are deadlocked 3 to 3 on this case and others. Gabriel is concerned a governor-appointed justice will tip the balance in favor of the act.

"Our biggest fear is that the process would allow for essentially case-fixing or tampering by the governor where he would appoint a seventh justice to get a result that he wanted in the case," said Gabriel.

"What this does is establish a very clear, concise, consistent standard across Pennsylvania," said Steve Forde, of the Marcellus Coalition.

The shale gas industry, which supported the legislation, argues that Act 13 actually strengthens protections by increasing setback distances and imposing impact fees.

But in this case, a tie means a victory for the opponents of Act 13. And they are calling on their legislators to have the case decided now.

"They can demand that the pending cases be decided and released prior to an appointment being confirmed," Garbriel said.

But right now, everything on hold awaiting the governor's appointment and awaiting whether that new justice can decide this very important case.

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