Journalism in the Public Interest

Pittsburgh Bans Natural Gas Drilling

Citing health and environmental concerns, Pittsburgh’s city council unanimously passes a ban on natural gas drilling within city limits.


Downtown Pittsburgh (Getty Images)

Citing health and environmental concerns, the Pittsburgh, Pa., city council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban natural gas drilling within the city limits. It is the first such ban in a Pennsylvania city.

The 9-0 vote received a standing ovation, according to the Associated Press.

Pittsburgh sits on the Marcellus Shale, the gas-rich rock formation that has triggered a drilling boom in the eastern United States. The drillers use a technique known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which shoots fluids underground at high pressures to release gas from bedrock. ProPublica has written more than 70 articles documenting the hidden costs of fracking.

The Pittsburgh bill was drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group.

"Commercial extraction of natural gas in the urban environment of Pittsburgh poses significant threat to the health, safety and welfare of residents and neighborhoods within the city," the ordinance said. "[Drilling] allows the deposition of toxins into the air, soil, water, environment and the bodies of residents."

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who has indicated he opposes the measure, has 10 days to review it before the ban goes into effect. If he vetoes the bill, six council votes would be needed to override him.

Yesterday, the city council in the Pittsburgh suburb of South Fayette passed a zoning ordinance that banned drilling in residential and conservation areas.

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60 minutes aired a piece on fracking where they showed the affects on tap water becoming flammable… the home owner was able to light his tap water with a lighter.  This was from this hydraulic fracturing that was happening within eye-shot of his house.  I think that was in Wyoming.  The water is poisonous for humans and livestock and couldn’t be good for plants.

The documentary film Gasland was excellent and covered this issue.

Gasland ran on HBO.

I’ve got an idea that would eliminate all the problems with fracking.  Why don’t we just stop fracking and spend the money that would have been expended building wind farms in Pa.instead.  Why not make Pa. the leader in wind farms?

Also, let’s use the mountain tops for wind farms instead of tearing them down to mine coal, another polluting fossil fuel

Christian Shope

Nov. 17, 2010, 4:49 a.m.

I’ll support you Steve, but I have a feeling your venture wouldn’t be profitable in PA. However, in California federal grants have made similar ventures possible, and I believe they are soon to be the country leader in solar power. When more citizens encourage the types of incentives that made this possible in CA it will happen in PA.

does anyone have a link to the actual resolution?

Wonderful news for the city of Pittsburgh!  However, the previous evening, Butler Area School District voted unanimously to sign a lease with gas drilling company, Rex Energy.

Stupid is as stupid does Pittsburg.

The gas that was coming out of the tap was in CO.  The reason it was flammable is because the homeowners drilled their water well into a water table that contained methane and when they dewatered the table the methane began releasing itself and the only place to escape was up the pipe into their faucet.

The movie Gasland is incredibly one sided.  There may be parts that have a hint of truth to them but the person in charge of the firm was not educated enough on the industry to create such a film.

Everyone choses to hear only the worst parts about the oil and gas industry and yet all of use and happy to consume what they produce for us.  You are a hypocrite if you badmouth the industry but still get in your car to drive places or turn on the heat to make your house warm in the winter.

Pro fracing, it is impossible to believe that suddenly, all over the county, people are finding contaminated welll water, some of it with chemical carcinogens and some of it with huge amounts of natural gas without the gas drilling industry being responsible. .  Anyone who tries to convince me of such an extreme proposition must take me and the thousands of people who post online about this problem, those I’m counting are the actual affected, suddenly started making up such stories and then the various state agencies which look into the well problems and almost unanimously link the problem to gas drilling and fracking.  Never in a million years can you convince me of something so preposterous.  Which company are yo working for Pro fracing. 

It doesn’t bother me yet but I have relatives in South Carolina who do have wells and and I know that just putting a well or septic tank tol close to an old outhouse or sewerage treatment system is dangerous and can keep you with the runs for days, months years or even until death. if you don’t resolve the roblem.  As bad as that sounds, it is better than cancer.

Pro fracing, it is impossible to believe that suddenly, all over the county, people are finding contaminated welll water, some of it with chemical carcinogens and some of it with huge amounts of natural gas without the gas drilling industry being responsible.

The only case where a well head was damaged and natural gas had infiltrated and baseline water quality was available the aquifer was found not to have been contaminated with drilling fluids.


So - the City of Pittsburgh banned shale gas drilling in the city limits - contary to state law.  And the Taxpayers of the City of Pittsburgh will be able to litigate against the Taxpayers of the Commonwealth.  This sounds like a great deal for the lawyers, and a total waste of money. 

Perhaps the City should consider other novel ideas-like creating their own drivers licenses or printing their own currency. 

...In other news - City Council voted to make all voters rich and handsome…

I’m not sure where you live, Steve Bush, but Pennsylvania is fast becoming a wind energy leader.  Come to the mountains to see for yourself.  The Allegheny Mountains are home to numerous wind farms. 

Governor Rendell led the way by enabling Gamesa USA to set up shop in two Pennsylvania locations.  Fiberblade, LLC, near Ebensburg, is manufacturing and shipping windmill blades throughout the nation.  Gamesa and others are forming partnerships and building wind farms.

The gas in Dimmock, Pa that was found in the water of over 13 different homes was proven by the DEP to have been the result of drilling.  The gas that was found and tested was THERMOGENIC and came from thousands of feet below the earth….not from where they had drilled their wells.
They used science to figure that out…..not hysteria.
The DEP now requires a new pipeline for water to the townspeople affected, and the company has refused. The irresponsible drillers, Cabot Oil and Gas, are making the DEP sue them instead of dealing with the mess that they made.
Sorry, but the DEP (department of environmental protection) just burst your hysteria bubble.
The gas companies should no longer be able to say that there has never been contamination proven, but much like MIKE H, I am sure they will still say what they want, regardless of the proof, the science and scientists, and thousands of complaints from all over the country.
There are many pieces to the drilling puzzle regarding health and safety. Pittsburgh’s council was given the facts and saw the risk. If we can’t handle 2 feet of snow here and not have an emergency, then how in the hell do you think we are prepared, here, for a real catastrophe that this type of activity in a densely populated area could bring.
We are not. They saw that and did the right thing.
Why else would a cash strapped city turn down the millions they could make otherwise.
There are spills which have happened here in PA; There were explosions that spewed the frac chemicals you speak of into the air in rural areas and our forests (imagine a city like Pittsburgh instead) for hours and days; (we had 3 such explosions within a couple of hours of Pittsburgh just this summer with only a thousand wells drilled, not the 50,000 they would like).
There are toxins being vented 24/7 off of condesate tanks that have grossly affected the quality of air, not just water in these areas. There are more violations here in the last year than there are wells and the by products have both been dumped illegally and legally into our rivers and streams.
These are the carcinogens and toxins they are trying to protect us from, and as a cancer survivor, I am grateful and proud for the stance that my city took.
I am also painfully aware that health trumps jobs and money, because you wont have either if you are ill. Even those numbers have been grossly exaggerated by the Marcellus Shale Coalition by studies that they themselves have paid for (i.e. the Penn State Study). Like loaves and fishes, they have turned some 2,000 jobs into 88,000 because of the domino effect of their (mostly out of state) workers on our economy.
Tell that to our organic farmers, our loggers, our tourist boards, and many many more whose jobs are now in jeopardy, ask them how many people they employ.
Go to Hickory, Pa or Divide Creek, Colorado, or any of the other places around here where the farmers now regret what they did because they were not given all of the facts upfront, and tell the people who’s health and lives and properties that have been ruined that this is all in their minds.  I am sure they will see your point and the hysteria of their ways.

@ dana I agree with you, this type of drilling is to expensive in terms of public health. Imagine a BP like catastrophe in a densely populated area…


Nov. 17, 2010, 7:32 p.m.


Nov. 17, 2010, 11:52 p.m.

Water is the new gold- very valuable . I am reading the excellent book “When the Rivers run Dry- Water- The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century”  written in 2006 expert journalist on water issues Fred Pearce. 
Two out of three rivers run dry before they reach the sea and the Rio Grande and the Colorado are drying up. 

We do NOT need unknown chemicals to be pumped under huge pressure into the ground—we will need these aquifers without contamination soon enough. 

Garbage in garbage out—

Earl D. Morgan

Nov. 18, 2010, 10:37 a.m.

The role of government is to protect its populace. Congratulations to the Pittsburgh City Council on a first step. However they also need to be concerned with distant (100’s miles) accidents that will damage thier supply of fresh water as well.

i hope for people of Pennsylvania to haveconstant favorable wind. otherwise it does not work too well round my part of the world.

Responding to Steve Bush:
Wind Turbines are a great idea for those locations where they are cost effective.  Too many areas that would make desirable locations do not have a strong enough and steady enough wind flow for the total project costs to pencil out.
Don’t forget, the cost of the purchase and installation of the turbines is only one part of the equation.  You also require access roads to be constructed to move the heavy equipment in during construction and to make maintenance possible, electrical control and switching facilities to manage the generated power, and long distance transmission lines to get the power to the grid.
Another effect that must be taken into account has been discovered here in California.  That is the migratory flight patterns of many species of birds.  Look into the statistics for the Altamont Pass Project on the toll that is being taken through the “Cuisinart Effect”.
No form of energy production is without costs.  Greater long term benefits can be derived by educating the public on the benefit of spending a little more up front for more energy efficient homes/ transportation/ and appliances.  Pittsburgh could offset a lot of the increased natural gas need by doing a complete thermo-graphic survey and advising residents and businesses on how to improve their thermal efficiency through better insulation and the plugging of “energy leaks”.
BTW electric cars are not the answer.  You are driving, in effect, a coal fired automobile when you use electricity as a power source.  Don’t believe me?  Just look up the statistics for what forms of energy are used for generation in your part of the country.

I don’t really care where you are you can put up wind mills until hell freezes over and never generate enough Electricity to help any one?

Hi B’tard (let me guess, an abbreviation regarding your conception):
I suggest pro-fracking persons sign themselves up for medical testing to determine the effects of drinking waters collected from ‘fracking’ areas. Should the long term effects be nothing ... pro-frackers can proclaim their prowess.  Should the long term effects be cancerous, society will benefit by the removal of mentally dangerous persons from the gene pool.  This would be a good way to put the actual risk on the ‘mother’ frackers where it belongs.

pro fracing…

If you’re going to troll for the gas companies, at least try to spell it correctly.  Pro Fracking, would have been the term you wanted to bandy about.

several comments refer to wind and solar which must be used in the future to get down to 350ppm CO2 - a requirement by nature to avoid global climate disasters.

  The wind does not always blow and the sun does not shine all the time and so natural gas is the energy source that is controlled by a on off switch and will augment and harmonize with wind/solar.

This is not true of a coal fired electric plant or a nuclear plant which cannot be adjusted that easily.

However, if we use natural gas up right now, then we will not have it to complement the wind and solar when they are ready. 

right now , we are selling natural gas at a very low price and there is a glut of it on the market .

Better to wait and do it as carefully as possible and not drill so many wells at once even if it may be more expensive to drill a few at a time only.  It will be safer and more controlled and produce better water, fewer accidents of all type, better roads, more wildlife, less crime, etc.

responding to gudrun scott

The current price of natural gas is the market clearing price.
There is a cycle to N.G. prices as there is with most commodities.  The cycle is about to start the (normal) upswing as the demand for space heating fuel heads toward the seasonal peak.
As I stated previously, the most efficient short term solution is to increase the availability of energy surveys and to actively work to plug energy leaks and increase insulation levels.  This can drop the space heating fuel costs by as much as 20%, which translates directly into a drop in demand for N.G. for that use.
Of course, this will not accomplish your stated purpose of increasing the fuel cost but have the opposite effect as the supply will quickly exceed the demand which will force the price to fall.

My good folks. I will be anxious to see the responses on this site when you have converted to wind and the wind doesn’t blow(which it doesn’t the majority of the time) and it is zero degrees for a few days. your energy costs for a 2200 square foot home will not matter because you will not have any. texas may sell you some but how does 2000.00 per home sound to you?
We all want clean energy, but we all want cheap energy! Think I’m wrong. All you folks writing on this blog can go off grid today, it is easy and relatively simple, but it costs lots of money and you may not have ac when you want it nor heat. But you can be comforted knowing that you are saving the environment, even while you freeze to death!
So lets get real. Use nat gas drilling responsibly and lets transition to a future fuel in some 75 years,
By the way ,do any of you know the total percentage of energy supplied by wind?

responding to phil tenesa

Nationally, about 2%, and that is rounding up.
California gets a larger percentage from wind, partially due to favorable wind patterns making certain projects economically viable, and partially due to state mandates for “green energy” supplying a significant percentage of the states electrical load by 2020.
Bear in mind that the economically viable projects did not have any major costs associated with them for construction of long distance transmission lines.  These projects were situated adjacent / nearby existing facilities requiring only the necessary switching facilities to tie them to the grid.
Mr Tenesa, are you off grid?  If so, I’ll bet you pay close attention to potential energy losses as I have advocated in previous posts.  You are also probably conscious of how much energy your appliances use, which devices are “power vampires” and do everything you can to reduce your power consumption in times of limited generating capability.

Not one post here advocated wind as a total solution.  Yet post after post assails wind proponents as myopic.  Wind is but one piece of a complex puzzle, folks.  Let’s look for solutions, rather than blindly attacking any post proposing use of wind.  Wind will never provide for all our power needs.  I doubt any wind proponent believes that.

Technology will ultimately solve the problem. 

We have a long road ahead of us.  We need to find common ground rather than fight over agendas.  I’m a natural gas proponent myself, who believes wind should (must) become a part of our future energy solution. 

We can preach conservation all we want, but unless the cost of energy becomes draconian, most will elect to conserve only slightly.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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