Council sets Marcellus Shale vote

A resolution opposing natural-gas development is expected to pass, though it would be largely symbolic.

Posted: January 27, 2011

Philadelphia City Council is scheduled to vote Thursday on a resolution opposing Marcellus Shale natural-gas development until further environmental studies can be conducted.

The resolution, which is expected to be approved, is the city's first formal declaration of opposition to natural-gas development in Pennsylvania. It was sponsored by Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who chaired hearings in September on Marcellus drilling.

Though anti-drilling activists are hailing the measure as "bold," its effects are largely symbolic because the city has limited legal means to influence drilling activity outside its jurisdiction. The nearest drilling is taking place more than 100 miles from the city limits, and there is no gas development now in the Delaware River watershed, from which the city draws its drinking water.

"Symbolic is the first step," Jones said Wednesday. He expects the resolution to pass unanimously.

Initially, Jones had wanted to prohibit the city-owned gas utility, Philadelphia Gas Works, from buying any gas derived from the Marcellus. But PGW and the Philadelphia Gas Commission said such a ban would put the utility into conflict with state laws, which oblige PGW to buy the lowest-cost fuel on behalf of its customers.

So the resolution was amended to ban Marcellus gas "so long as it is responsible and is consistent with the least-cost fuel procurement requirement of state law."

For the time being, it's a moot point: PGW buys its natural gas from sources on the Gulf Coast, not the Marcellus Shale region.

The resolution urges the state to ban gas drilling in the Delaware basin until a federal study is completed in 2012 of the gas-extraction technique called hydraulic fracturing.

Jones said he was not persuaded by the industry's arguments that shale-gas development is an economic boost to Pennsylvania, has driven down natural-gas costs, and provides an alternative to imported oil.

"Sure, I want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," he said, "but I don't want to do it at the expense of clean water."

Despite testimony at the September hearing that a number of Philadelphia firms are getting shale-related work, Jones said he saw no economic benefit to the city from the Marcellus.

"If they can point to 10 jobs here that they've created other than lobbyists, I'd like to hear it," he said.

Kathryn Klaber, head of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, complained that a report Jones' Council committee wrote on shale-gas development reflected mostly an anti-drilling perspective.

"There is an entire energy economy, a clean-energy strategy around natural-gas development, that is absent from this report," she said.


Contact staff writer Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947 or amaykuth@phillynews.com.

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