Mari Margil and Ben Price have a detailed article in Yes! magazine this month about Pittsburgh’s recent ban on natural gas drilling, which uses the “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing technique. Pittsburgh is the first major city in the US to ban corporations from natural gas drilling.
The ordinance has a direct impact on Pittsburgh, but as they point out, its implications go much further:
Provisions in the ordinance eliminate corporate “personhood” rights within the city for corporations seeking to drill, and remove the ability of corporations to wield the Commerce and Contracts Clauses of the U.S. Constitution to override community decision-making.
Community decision making is essential in this arena for two reasons: First, exemptions to the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act for the oil and gas industry, expanded even further in 2005, mean that the burden of proof is now on communities to prove that any drilling practice is unsafe. This, it’s essential that communty decision making be supported and seen as the proper venue for judging the value of any drilling. Second, no individual landowner can have much impact on the drilling. The horizontal drilling methods mean that the fracking can proceed, regardless of landowner approval. All the landowner can do is decide to forego any royalties. This effectively grants all power to the corporation doing the drilling.
This issue hits home for me, since Fort Worth has been a major site for fracking (Smith, 2010). Although the oil and gas industry has asserted that fracking does not pollute underground water supplies or air quality, does not cause earthquakes, and is all in all a benign way to produce clean energy, it’s difficult to accept the assertions when they continually seek exemptions to EPA review and refuse to release data on the chemicals and procedures they use.
- Environmental Protection Agency website on hydraulic fracturing.
- Horwitt, Dusty (2009, March). Free Pass for Oil and Gas: Environmental Protections Rolled Back as Western Drilling Surges. Environmental Working Group.
- Lustgarten, Abrahm (2009, July 8). Energy Industry Sways Congress With Misleading Data. ProPublica.
- Margil, Mari; & Price, Ben (2010, November 16). Pittsburgh Bans Natural Gas Drilling. Yes!.
- Smith, Jack (2010). Various article about the experiences in Fort Worth. Star-Telegram.