Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Council Hears Experts on Marcellus Shale

Pittsburgh Councilman Doug Shields brought together environmental and legal experts in Council Chambers Monday for a Marcellus Shale information-gathering session.

The discussion centered on public health concerns related to drilling and the legal issues the city may meet when trying to ban Shale gas wells.

Shields recently introduced a moratorium on Shale drilling within city limits. However, the ban might not be legal because it contradicts Pennsylvania's Oil and Gas Act.

University of Pittsburgh constitutional law Professor Jules Lobel says while the Oil and Gas Act preempts local zoning laws, the city could argue that the ban is an emergency measure to protect its natural resources. Lobel says Pittsburgh could also argue that gas drilling, like nuclear power, is too dangerous an industry for an urban area.

Pitt environmental law professor Emily Collins says if the moratorium is challenged, the city could face three problems: Pittsburgh's limited zoning authority, the precedence of the Oil and Gas Act, and the time and money needed for litigation.

Cornell University environmental engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea says environmental accidents occur at one in every 150 wells, which is unacceptable when compared to the far smaller incident rates in other industries like bridge-building and air travel.

Lobel says while Pittsburgh may lose a court battle with the state, persistent lawsuits can change the opinion of the courts over time.

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