The Allegheny County (PA) Council has scheduled a hearing for 5 p.m. EST Thursday in Pittsburgh to hear public comment regarding Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling within the county.

The council held a hearing on the same topic last July, but with a long list of invited guests -- including the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, along with industry representatives Consol Energy, Allegheny Energy, Atlas Energy Resources, Peoples Natural Gas and Range Resources -- members of the public said more time was needed for comments.

The council is considering new restrictions on drilling in the county, including stretching the minimum distance between wells and homes to 2,000 feet from the current state-mandated 200-foot minimum.

The City Council of Pittsburgh, Allegheny's county seat, last year approved an ordinance prohibiting natural gas drilling in the city (see Shale Daily, Nov. 17, 2010). The ordinance didn't particularly worry drillers, who hadn't applied to the city for any drilling permits. And several small localities in the Pittsburgh area that have considered restrictions on drilling account for only a relatively small amount of Marcellus acreage (see Shale Daily, Nov. 22, 2010).

But Allegheny County could be a different story. While not currently a Marcellus heavy hitter, its 745 square miles are wedged into southwestern Pennsylvania amongst some of the state's most productive counties. Four permits to drill and operate wells in Allegheny County were issued in January, according to DEP.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato last year ran for governor with an energy plan that included an "impact tax" on companies that extract gas in the state to "bring Pennsylvania in line with other gas-producing states" (see Shale Daily, Oct. 28, 2010).