Another Pennsylvania Community Considers Fracking Ban

A Western Pennsylvania town is considering an ordinance that would ban fracking. According to a report in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Wilkinsburg council agreed Wednesday night to have its solicitor review a sample ordinance that would ban natural gas drilling via fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, from within municipal limits.

Wilkinsburg is located just outside of the city of Pittsburgh. In November, Pittsburgh City Council also voted to ban fracking from the city limits. Both Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg sit atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus shale, and fracking has become the subject controversy in the area. According to the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research, more than 300 acres – around 1 percent – of the land in Pittsburgh has been leased for drilling, though no drilling is currently taking place.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Thanks to a move by Congress in 2005, fracking is exempt from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act – deemed by fracking opponents the “Halliburton Loophole.” As a result, frackers don’t have to disclose the chemicals that make up their fracking fluids. But environmentalists are concerned that those chemicals could make their way into water supplies. In Pennsylvania, fracking has been named a suspect in several instances of water contamination.

According to the Post-Gazette, Wilkinsburg council decided to consider a fracking ban after a concerned resident urged it to adopt such legislation as a means of protecting both drinking water and the environment.

Even if it becomes law, any Wilkinsburg fracking ban is likely to be challenged in court, as could the one approved by Pittsburgh City Council last year. The energy industry could argue that such bans conflict with the state’s authority to regulate gas production.

Municipal fracking bans have become something of a trend lately. Last year, the Buffalo, New York Common Council voted to forbid fracking there. And last week, the City Council of Wellsburg, West Virginia approved an ordinance that forbids natural gas drilling within the city limits, and further bans fracking within five miles of the city limits.

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