Pittsburgh Bans Natural Gas Drilling
On November 16, the Pittsburgh City Council voted unanimously to ban natural gas drilling within Pittsburgh city limits, making it the first city in Pennsylvania to approve such a ban.
The ban was passed in response to the recent Marcellus Shale activity in the region. Pittsburgh sits atop the heart of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, and natural gas companies have converged on Pittsburgh and the surrounding region to explore for and develop the gas reserves. Within Pittsburgh city limits, however, only around one percent of land has been leased, according to the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research, and drilling in the city has yet to take place.
Councilman Doug Shields sponsored the ordinance, which was drafted with the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). According to Shields, the ordinance asserts "the right of the city to make critical decisions to protect our health, safety and welfare." In a press release issued following the Council?s vote, CELDF claimed that ""fracking" has been cited as a threat to surface and groundwater, and has been blamed for fatal explosions, the contamination of drinking water, local rivers and streams."
In response to the ban, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) expressed disappointment, but not surprise, in the Council's vote. In a press release, Kathryn Klaber, MSC's president and executive director, stated that "[a]t a time when the natural gas industry is generating jobs and prosperity for tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians and economic development across the Commonwealth, it's unfortunate that the council continues to maintain a shortsighted view regarding responsible shale gas development and its overwhelmingly positive economic, environmental and energy security benefits."
The ordinance now goes to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who has ten days to decide whether to veto or not sign the bill. A veto would require six of nine Council votes to be overridden; failure to sign the bill would result in it becoming law by default.
Gas companies involved in Marcellus Shale development have suggested a possible legal challenge to the ordinance on grounds of federal and state environmental regulatory pre-emption.
Should you have questions about this or any matter involving energy law, please contact the Energy Group at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC.