The mayor of Pittsburgh said he would not sign a measure allowing voters to decide whether to ban natural gas extraction in the city, but the city council is still trying to get the referendum on the ballot.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl told the council Monday that he would not sign a measure they passed last week which would allow voters to decide whether to incorporate a ban on all natural gas extraction inside the city limits -- both conventional and unconventional wells -- into the city charter (see Shale Daily, Aug. 4).

By letting the measure expire without a signature or a veto -- a maneuver known as a pocket veto -- Ravenstahl made it harder for the council to override his decision by voting on it a second time. "By withholding my signature I have effectively eliminated the possibility that this item appear on the ballot during this election cycle," Ravenstahl wrote to members of the city council on Monday.

He did not make it impossible, though, at least according to the council. Councilman Doug Shields, a sponsor of the measure, said Tuesday that the city council got conditional approval from the Allegheny County Bureau of Elections to include the referendum on the November ballot, pending a review by the County Law Department, a move he described as standard practice.

Ravenstahl said he blocked the move for economic and legal reasons, and because of timing. He said he worried about "the message that we are sending when we are essentially blocking an industry from investing in our city and our region" and about the legality of adding a ban to the city charter. In 2009 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed that municipalities do not have that authority.

Ravenstahl also said that the council wanted him to "fast forward" the legislative process. Shields rejected that claim "out of hand."

"It was clear from the beginning that he intended to thwart any attempt to have a popular vote on the matter. He's had plenty of notice," he said, referring specifically to a previous vote by the council last November to ban drilling that Ravenstahl also refused to sign (see Shale Daily, Nov. 17, 2010).

Shields said the council spent three months debating that measure before the public. "The facts continue to pile up as to the adverse impacts of fracking and the lack of credibility of this industry," Shields said. "To claim to be rushed or not sure of the matter is being less than candid."

Ravenstahl said the city can protect citizens while still reaping economic benefits. "Whatever your own position on the issue of natural gas drilling, this industry is in this region to stay," he wrote. "In time, this industry may well be one of this region's leading job creators and economic engines.