In 2010, Pittsburgh adopted a first-in-the-nation ordinance banning drilling companies from extracting natural gas within the city using hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking.” Now, one council member who previously voted for the ban might be changing his stance.
Councilman Patrick Dowd voted for the ban two years ago along with the remainder of Pittsburgh council. Though the ban has yet to be lifted, Dowd today unveiled four zoning bills that would permit natural gas drilling within Pittsburgh city limits.
Specifically, the zoning legislation would allow for mineral extraction activities, which includes natural gas extraction. For a site to be eligible, a Mineral Extraction District (MED) must be at least 40 acres in size and must complete a Mineral Extraction Master Plan, which would require baseline water and soil studies.
Dowd said he authored this legislative package because of a lack of action on a bill he proposed in 2010 and a recent court decision regarding Act 13, declaring zoning regulations to be the responsibility of municipal rather than county or state governments.
“The Commonwealth Court didn’t just say that the municipalities are empowered to do this, the Commonwealth Court decision says that ‘municipalities are best suited to plan the use of land in their municipalities, to regulate through zoning, and, this is very important, to guarantee due process for citizens,” Dowd said.
Even though the city's ban and these proposed zoning regulations seem to clash, Dowd believes the legislation does not attempt to supersede or repeal the drilling ban.
“There’s nothing at this time that says, ‘we’re putting this in place of the ban’,” Dowd said. “I sincerely believe that if we want to protect citizens, we have to enact zoning regulation. That does not mean that we have to today take down the ban.”
Dowd's measures also call for site restoration once extraction activities have been completed in the MED, including clean-up and land repair requirements. The legislation requires the provision of training to first responders and allowance for on-going site inspection as well as measures for site security.
The zoning legislation will be introduced to Council Monday, September 24th.
Meantime, the Allegheny County Airport Authority announced today it is seeking bids for a gas lease on land at Pittsburgh International Airport and Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin.
“We think that this a good time for the Airport Authority and Allegheny County to explore what options are available to us and how it may benefit County taxpayers,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “Obviously, evaluating any bids is just the first step. Before any drilling occurs, there will be plenty of opportunity for input from the public and interested parties."
Fitzgerald said one of their priorities will be to require the use of technology and best practices to reduce environmental risks and impacts "so drilling can be done in a safe and responsible manner.”
David Minnotte, Airport Authority Chairman, said there's a lot of interest in airport property from energy companies. “Seeking leases for gas drilling is an important means of generating non-aviation revenue that will reduce the cost of operations for the Airport Authority. That in turn could help reduce fees to the airlines which benefits passengers.”