City OKs ban on gas drilling
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After Pittsburgh City Council gave final approval Tuesday to a ban on natural-gas production in the city, industry opponents vowed to press for similar prohibitions at the Allegheny County and state levels.
Council cited health and environmental concerns in passing the ban, which the industry has dismissed as illegal and supporters portrayed as part of a populist tide against Marcellus Shale gas production.
"We're going to be slowly poisoned if we don't rise up against this undemocratic, unconstitutional" industry, said Lincoln Place resident Loretta Weir, who is active in the group Marcellus Shale Protest.
The group is concerned about well, river and air pollution. Clipboard in hand, Lincoln Place resident Jeanne McMullen said she and other group members are circulating petitions to ban gas production in the county and statewide.
Councilman Doug Shields sponsored Pittsburgh's ordinance, saying shale gas production portended a return to the city's polluted industrial past.
On Monday night, South Fayette commissioners voted to exclude gas drilling from residential neighborhoods, farms and parks. Pittsburgh's ordinance goes farther. Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund called it a "first-in-the-nation" ordinance that asserts the primacy of community interests over gas company rights.
The Franklin County group worked with Mr. Shields to write the law. A few years ago, the group helped Blaine, Washington County, enact a ban against mining -- an effort ultimately struck down by a federal court.
If it sues over Pittsburgh's ordinance, the gas industry could argue that the ban conflicts with the state's authority to regulate gas production.
If the industry wants to sue, Mr. Shields said, so be it. However, he warned that a protracted legal fight might have political and economic repercussions for what he called an under-taxed, under-regulated industry.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office declined to comment, but spokeswoman Joanna Doven previously said the mayor opposed a ban because of the industry's economic benefits. Mr. Ravenstahl has 10 days to decide on a veto, but council's support appeared veto-proof.
In a statement, the Marcellus Shale Coalition called the vote "expected, yet disappointing."
The ban exacerbates "the city's weak financial standing, and at the same time is a straightforward attack on individual property rights," coalition president and executive director Kathryn Klaber said. "At 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."
Though leasing agents had been locking up blocks of land in eastern neighborhoods, the coalition previously said council's action was premature because its members had no immediate plans to drill in the city.
No council member offered words of support for the industry Tuesday. Council President Darlene Harris scoffed at the industry's assertions about job creation.
"There's going to be a lot of jobs for funeral homes and hospitals," Mrs. Harris said, referring to health concerns associated with gas production. "That's where the jobs are. Is it worth it?"
First Published November 17, 2010 12:00 am