PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The Pittsburgh City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to ban natural gas drilling in the city amid concern about threats to water quality.
By a vote of 9-0, the council adopted an ordinance that would prevent any energy company from drilling a gas well within city limits.
No wells currently exist but the industry has about 1,500 acres of city land under lease, according to Councilman Douglas Shields, who sponsored the measure.
Shields said he believes Pittsburgh is the first U.S. city to ban natural gas drilling at a time when abundant domestic reserves of the cleaner-burning fuel are seen as a way of reducing U.S. dependence on imported oil and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
The vote reflects concern about possible water and air contamination from hydraulic fracturing, an extraction technique that has enabled a boom in gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation.
“This is a dangerous activity to be doing in a densely populated area,” he said. “The industry is in total denial about its impacts. All they care about is jobs and money.”
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, said the vote was expected, but disappointing.
“The vote represents a blow to the city’s weak financial standing, and at the same time is a straightforward attack on individual property rights,” said MSC president Kathryn Klaber in a statement.
Shields said the vote represents a challenge to Pennsylvania’s 1985 Oil and Gas Act which asserts the right of the state to preempt local laws that would ban oil and gas drilling.
According to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania nonprofit that drafted the Pittsburgh ordinance, local communities have a constitutional right to deny drilling rights to companies within their bounds.
Reporting by Jon Hurdle; Editing by Jerry Norton