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Pittsburgh's ban on drilling could end

| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, 7:50 a.m.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Patrick Dowd plans to introduce legislation that would eliminate a ban on Marcellus shale drilling in the city by creating strict zoning regulations for gas extraction.

Council banned gas drilling citywide in 2010, but council members said in recent weeks that they have privately discussed amending or easing the restriction.

Dowd scheduled a press conference for Thursday morning to talk about his bill in detail. It would generally create zoning regulations and an extensive planning process for mineral extraction, including natural gas drilling, according to Nathaniel Hanson, Dowd's communications and administrative manager.

Dowd declined to comment further.

Gas drillers would have to abide by the regulations and receive approval of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and City Council, Hanson said.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, a sponsor of the ban, said Dowd promised to introduce zoning regulations for shale drilling in 2010, which is why she supported the ban.

“We always knew at some point that he was going to create zoning,” she said.

Kail-Smith said her main concern is the safety of Pittsburgh residents, and she would not commit to supporting the legislation without seeing it.

“I think council is interested in having the conversation, but I don't think anyone is committed to voting for it until they see exactly what it says,” Kail-Smith said.

The state Public Utility Commission last week issued a nonbinding opinion on the ban, saying state and federal law pre-empts portions of it and that council overstepped its authority by approving it.

Critics such as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald have said the ban prompted the industry to bypass Pittsburgh when deciding locations for corporate headquarters and conventions.

“The words ‘ban' or ‘moratorium' send a signal to companies that might want to build a headquarters in Downtown Pittsburgh. It sends a signal that you're not wanted here,” Fitzgerald said.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl remains opposed to the ban and supports drilling with “common-sense safeguards” through zoning regulations, spokeswoman Joanna Doven said.

“We don't believe warding off an industry that is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs is prudent,” she said.

Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a drilling industry group based in Cecil, said she could not comment on Dowd's legislation before she reads it.

“We'll take a look at it,” Klaber said.

The state Legislature early this year passed rules setting standards for how municipalities can regulate oil and gas extraction. Commonwealth Court in July ruled those provisions of Act 13 as unconstitutional. State agencies have since appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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