The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on Thursday ruled that the zoning portion of the state's Act 13 drilling law is unconstitutional,
The decision overturns a key part of the new state law that would have limited local control over where such drilling is allowed.
The law would have stripped municipalities of zoning rights and handed state agencies sole authority to determine where hydraulic fracturing or fracking would be permitted.
It is expected that Gov. Tom Corbett will appeal the decision by the state appeals court to the state supreme court.
Critics of the law had argued that it would have compelled municipalities to allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, almost anywhere a company requested, without taking into account surroundings such as nearby schools, homes and waterways.
Industry advocates, however, contended that the law provided a uniform statewide zoning system that would have further bolstered Pennsylvania's fracking boom. The law carved out a niche for the oil and gas sector as the only industry in Pennsylvania exempt from local zoning ordinances.
The issue of who has control over fracking — localities or the state — is playing out almost everywhere that the technique is being used to produce natural gas, and some experts expect this decision to resonate beyond Pennsylvania.Ohio has a law with similar zoning provisions.
Pennsylvania has 30 days to decide whether to appeal.
Industry advocates suggested that the ruling could slow a fracking rush in the state.
Marcellus Shale Coalition President Kathryn Z. Klaber said: "Lack of uniformity has long been an Achilles' heel for Pennsylvania and must be resolved if the commonwealth is to remain a leader in responsible American natural gas development and reap the associated economic, environmental and national security benefits."