Not in their backyards

Many city residents express worry about potential Marcellus Shale hazards

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The potential for Marcellus Shale drilling within the city of Pittsburgh brought out a panel of experts and about 80 people who filled City Council chambers Monday for a hearing on the impact gas drilling could have here.

Chuck Christen of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, cited a list of environmental and health concerns, saying: "There is not enough independent research. All my questions are ones for which there are no answers."

Gas drilling is heaviest in Greene and Washington counties to the south and Tioga and Kane counties in the northern tier, but leasing agents have been knocking on doors in Pittsburgh.

Nadia Steinzor, a Marcellus regional organizer for Earthworks, an environmental organization that focuses on the impact of extraction industries, said people were signing leases without legal representation, often not knowing whether they are signing away their surface and mineral rights and sometimes not knowing where their property lines are.

State law restricts deep well drilling to no closer than 200 feet from an occupied building, but in densely populated Lawrenceville, the majority of at least 57 parcels are under agreement, Councilman Patrick Dowd wrote in an earlier e-mail to the Post-Gazette. Councilman Doug Shields said people also had been approached in his district.

Kathryn Klaber, president and executive director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition of gas drilling interests, said she did not know how those leases might be used. When Mr. Shields asked her if her partners wanted to drill within the city, she said, "I don't think they've made that decision."

She said 99.5 percent of the liquid that is pumped thousands of feet underground to fracture shale is water and that gas drilling uses far less water than any other fuel-extraction industry. She said many companies were reusing for future wells the water that comes back up.

A small percentage of that liquid is "very toxic and dangerous chemicals," said Ms. Steinzor.

State Rep. David Levdansky, D-Forward, a member of the Energy and Environmental Resources Committee, said Marcellus drilling presented "an opportunity and a challenge" for Pittsburgh.

"If done correctly, it can promote economic development and tens of thousands of jobs and an opportunity for energy independence" -- enough gas in Pennsylvania "to serve the northeast corridor for the next 20 to 30 years." He said another upside was that gas is "a relatively cleaner burning fuel" than coal.

But he was cautionary, as were many on the panel, about how this opportunity needs to be vetted, focusing on water extraction and disposal methods.

Mr. Levdansky called for a severance tax on gas production, saying Pennsylvania is the only state that does not have one, and a moratorium on more leasing in state forests. "Over 50 percent of the state forest acreage that overlays the Marcellus Shale has, in fact, been leased."

Several people raised the concern of water contamination and the impact drilling and the heavy equipment that goes with it could have on the city's infrastructure, from bridges to cisterns.

Jack Crook, the compliance chief for oil and gas for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the fracturing of shale to extract gas goes thousands of feet deep and "cannot affect the quality of a stream. Water management plans are required of every company."

The question of whether the municipal code would be superseded by eminent domain on behalf of the gas industry concerned Councilmen Shields and William Peduto.

"If council can't exercise control over our municipal code, what good is it?" said Mr. Shields. "We've spent three generations cleaning up this city. I want what we've worked toward."

"You take away the right of a municipality to govern itself, you take away the municipality," said Mr. Peduto. "I can't think of what neighborhood in the city of Pittsburgh where it would be appropriate to drill for gas. Everywhere you turn you have people and water.

"Frack ponds are about the size of this room." He asked the panel, "What neighborhood would you drill in?"

The panel sat in bemused silence at the question.

Mr. Peduto said that if the Pittsburgh region is going to succeed, "it is not going to succeed on heavy industry."

In an e-mail, he said he will present a plan that "finds a way to protect our powers of self-governance to protect our city and our people by working to prevent drilling in the city."

Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at .


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