Pittsburgh Councilman Patrick Dowd on Thursday announced legislation that he said would provide residents with health-and-safety protections should the natural gas industry secure a beachhead in the city despite the drilling ban enacted in 2010.
Mr. Dowd said he intends to introduce a package of bills that would establish and regulate "mineral extraction districts." The legislation would require that each district encompass at least 40 acres. It would require operators to develop comprehensive plans, perform baseline water and soil studies, authorize site inspections by city officials and ensure training for public-safety workers who might have to respond to drilling-related emergencies.
When they're done working at the site, operators would have to perform environmental remediation.
Mr. Dowd and eight colleagues approved the ban in 2010, a time when gas company leasing agents were securing land in some parts of the city even though the industry said it had no immediate plans to drill in Pittsburgh. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group, called the ban illegal. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl also called it illegal and said it sent the wrong message to an industry that's generated thousands of jobs.
Council has stood by the ban even though Mr. Ravenstahl and others in the business community have advocated its repeal.
On Thursday, Mr. Dowd said he can envision a day when the industry, if properly regulated, has a presence in the city. However, his legislation would not automatically repeal the ban, and he said no discussion of a repeal should occur until the city implements safeguards such as those he's now proposing.
In a recent advisory opinion sought by the city Law Department, the state Public Utility Commission said the ban likely is illegal. Under Mr. Dowd's legislation, safeguards would be in place if the ban is struck down.
Mr. Dowd criticized Mr. Ravenstahl for opposing the ban without proposing health-and-safety safeguards for residents. "His only position is a simple-minded position," Mr. Dowd said.
Mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven said Mr. Ravenstahl broached the subject of safeguards in 2010. At the time, she said, council had no appetite for anything except a ban.
"If you want to talk about simple-minded, I think the ban was the most simple-minded thing that's occurred in council's recent history," Ms. Doven said.
Council President Darlene Harris, a staunch opponent of drilling in the city, said she had not read Mr. Dowd's legislation and could not comment. Pat Creighton, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, was critical.
"While we're not aware of any natural gas operators actively seeking to develop the Marcellus Shale in the city of Pittsburgh, proposals like this that seek to further restrict and strike private-property owners of their fundamental rights is short-sighted and not productive," he said in an email, adding that "responsible natural gas development is providing communities with opportunities and employment not witnessed since the steel days."
Mr. Dowd introduced the legislation despite uncertainty over municipalities' authority to regulate the gas industry through zoning laws. The state Supreme Court next month will review the validity of Act 13, which created statewide zoning standards for the industry.
Joe Smydo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548. First Published September 20, 2012 3:15 PM