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?


  1. Personally, I am opposed to drilling in the city. More importantly, though - I am opposed to grandstanding on this issue. When it comes to energy policy and public infrastructure and state & municipal budgets and the environment, we need clarity of thought...and we need to generally raise awareness of the attending elements and factors.

    I am extremely disappointed that some folks in our area did not support Dan Onorato because of what they perceived to be his stance on Marcellus Shale. I hope they understand that Tom Corbett's win is going to directly present them and their cause a LOT of problems.

    The single most important thing that one could have done to express concern about drilling and to take action against unsafe drilling was to help defeat Tom Corbett. Marching against drilling, pushing for a municipal ban, protesting outside conventions, all of those pale in comparison to what was meant by that one choice.

    Also, I think we are in real trouble because of the loss of Rep. David Levdansky. He was probably the most knowledgeable, pragmatic, and sensible politician voice we had on this issue...the one best situated to help PA move in the right overall direction.

    This is not a conversation about Luke Ravenstahl and whether he will support this ban, not even remotely. It is a conversation about what state-level politicians are going to allow...and thanks to ignorance, the pols we're dealing with do NOT place the interests of citizens ahead of industry.

  2. What was Dan's stance on the Marcellus Shale? I know he was for a severance tax, and that's not useless as such a revenue stream would help fund enforcement and some remediation, but I know he wasn't for any moratorium and more importantly I don't recall hearing anything about amending the Oil and Gas Act, which is really where the problem lies. He also didn't speak out against Rendell's no bid contract on public land, which would have been a good opportunity to distance himself from Rendell, which was probably a bigger problem in the election.

  3. And I agree the loss of Levdansky is a huge heartbreaker. I didn't even know he was vulnerable.

  4. Onorato was not responsive to the call for a city ban. Instead, he focused on workforce training, and as you say, the severance tax.

  5. Levdansky got beat. He is the only one moving to a new private sector job in the area. That's not a big loss.

  6. Bram Said: "And I agree the loss of Levdansky is a huge heartbreaker. I didn't even know he was vulnerable."

    Add every City Council Member to Bram's List.

  7. Why do I have to be represented by the Costa that isn't holding? Harrisburgh is useless.

  8. MH, Paul Costa got elected in 1998 in a multi candidate primary race for an open seat in which the Costa clan (looking at you Jay) twisted the arms of labor and the county democratic committee. In twelve years as State Rep, Paul Costa's done basically nothing except vote the way he's told, and collect a paycheck. No one wants to challenge a Costa and basically he hasn't had a good challenger in 12 years. One of Harrisburg's finest . . . the least the Dem leadership can do is try to get rid of him through redistricting.

  9. Actually, Paul Costa did have a reasonable challenger this year. Rich Dodaro (apparently not closely related to the better-known Dodaro). Got 26 percent of vote in Dem primary. Not a huge amount, but at least he smoked out Costa, got him to show up at public events, and got people thinking about an alternative.

  10. If Costa wasn't on the committee that oversees liquor sales, I probably wouldn't find this as funny as I do. I wonder if he detests me being able to buy liquor and wine at a regular store for a fair price as much as he detests the marijuana he says he doesn't smoke?