Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Our Municipal Drilling Ban: You Don't Has One?
The people of Pittsburgh have decided to grandstand on the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling, the theory being that it is still so intractably foul and dangerous that we are endowed by our Creator with a certain unalienable right to keep it as far away from us as we can manage to police.
Not the politicians, mind you, but the people have insisted upon throwing this party, by their direct action or their amiable assent -- and a good many of them with their eyes wide open as to the legal, um, difficulties? Is that the right word? Point being, this is an educated crowd, and they know roughly what they're getting into.
Well, I'll tell you what: there are worse issues to grandstand over, and ones with less practical upside. This could parlay into some extended, modest, slow-burn G20 type of action for Pittsburgh -- activists, artists, scholars, scientists, policymakers and lawyers from all over the U.S. convening here to strategize, network, behold our fair city, eat at our restaurants, attempt to mate and what have you. It's very conceivable that all that activity will result in some genuine locally-grown advances for the cause of safe and sustainable energy development, or else some other things entirely unexpected. The ban is a respectable decision.
In terms of dreary bookkeeping, let the record show there are two (2) dangers in this course of action. One is that if the ban on drilling is challenged in Court, and fails, and then we attempt to pursue zoning restrictions as a fallback, then a new challenger who finds our restrictions too restrictive might claim it was our clear intent to covertly ban drilling, as evidenced by our prior overt attempt. So that could leave us with closer to nothing. A second danger is that we might end up paying the legal costs of these Marcellus drillers out of our own pocket, as that tends to occur when a party violates what other folks thickly insist on treating as constitutional rights.
It will be diverting to learn whether this legislation prompts a veto from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. The veto would be easily overridden, but who cares, he has vetoed unanimously passed legislation before on sheer principle. The city's Law Department cannot be imagined to be particularly enthusiastic about this, and one would hope a mayor of four or five years experience would be trained to listen to his or her law department. So a veto would also be respectable -- but, it might be more profitable and a lot more fun to join the party.
Mind you, the Marcellus Shale Coalition and at least one driller say they have no plans to challenge our ordinance, as there are no serious drilling leases within the city due to geology and science and a little politics. Yet that could change if the technology, the economics, or our consideration of the geology changes, or if municipalities more comfortably situated on the shale bed take a look at us and think, why not us?