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A pumpjack brings oil to the surface in the Monterey Shale, California, April 29, 2013. Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

Middlesex fracking lawsuit in jeopardy, judge says

A Butler County judge said she would dismiss a lawsuit that a developer and 13 property owners filed against five fracking opponents and two environmental groups if they don’t amend it.

The defendants were Middlesex residents who challenged the township’s zoning ordinances that allowed drilling in 90 percent of the township.

Common Pleas Judge Marilyn Horan on Wednesday said the plaintiffs failed to associate various allegations with specific defendants and gave Dewey Homes & Investment Properties and the property owners 20 days to amend their lawsuit.

The ACLU said the Dewey suit was the first SLAPP, or strategic lawsuit against public participation, it has found related to fracking in Pennsylvania.

In related, 250 turn out for Middlesex hearing on challenge to ordinance allowing Rex Energy fracking.

A SLAPP lawsuit is a legal tactic intended to block constitutionally protected activities such as speaking at public meetings and filing legal challenges to oppose commercial activity.

The plaintiffs collectively own more than 440 acres of land. All had leases with either Rex Energy, Range Resources or Dale Property Service LP to drill for natural gas.

Dewey has said the case is based on the fact that drilling is legal in Pennsylvania.

Drilling is on hold in Middlesex, a rural borough of about 850 people, while the residents’ challenge of the township’s zoning ordinances is decided in court. Both sides say they expect a court battle to set a precedent and help define the extent to which municipalities in Pennsylvania are allowed to oversee and regulate hydraulic fracking.

This article was written by Rick Wills from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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