By Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2015

BUTLER, Pa. (AP) - A judge has dismissed a lawsuit that landowners filed against people and groups who oppose fracking in a western Pennsylvania township.

Natural gas drilling has been delayed in Middlesex, Butler County while some of the rural community’s 800 residents challenge a zoning ordinance that would allow drilling in 90 percent of the rural township.

Dewey Homes and Investment Properties and 12 landowners sued the drilling opponents, seeking damages for royalties they’ve been unable to collect from gas drilling companies who have leases to drill on their land.

But the residents and environmental groups challenged that litigation as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP suit, meant to silence their opposition and free-speech rights.

An attorney for the landowners hasn’t said whether he’ll appeal Thursday’s ruling, which dismissed the lawsuit for not being specific enough.

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