The Legality of Pittsburgh's Efforts to Limit Drilling

Pittsburgh City Council and town boards in the region are holding hearings on potentially banning or restricting gas drilling within their municipalities. Environmental lawyers think some of the proposal stand a better chance than others.

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Pittsburgh City Council and town boards in the region are holding hearings on potentially banning or restricting gas drilling within their municipalities. Environmental lawyers think some of the proposal stand a better chance than others.

DELANEY: Things don't look good for Pennsylvania communities hoping to ban gas development.

Experts say most bans wouldn't even make it to a courtroom because they're preempted by the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, which promotes and regulates drilling.

Environmental lawyers say that Pittsburgh and smaller towns would have better luck with new zoning ordinances that would limit the type and location of drilling.

University of Pittsburgh Law Professor Emily Collins says the city already has some zoning restrictions covering gas drilling.

COLLINS: The city of Pittsburgh does have some control over oil and gas operations within the city. It's a conditional use. Whether the city wants it to be a conditional use in every potential zone, I think, is a real question that needs to be thought about.

DELANEY: Further restrictions could include aesthetics, operation hours and proximity to flood planes.

One of two bills floating around the Pittsburgh City Council right now looks at more zoning limitations while a second calls for an all-out ban.

Duquesne Law Visiting Professor Gina Warren says Pittsburgh could have luck with a temporary moratorium that cites safety concerns like damage to drinking water, but it would probably only be short-term since bans are outlawed.

Indiana and Harmar Townships (in Allegheny County) will hold hearings on tightening their zoning limitations in the coming weeks. Gas drilling is already underway in parts of Indiana and the new regulations would restrict drilling in close proximity to residential areas.

For the Allegheny Front, I'm Ryan Delaney.