A member of the Pittsburgh City Council has introduced four proposed amendments to the city’s zoning code that would allow 40-acre minimum “mineral extraction districts” for Marcellus Shale drilling.

The proposed amendments, Nos. 756 through 759, were submitted by Councilman Patrick Dowd (D-7th district) on Monday before the city council’s regularly scheduled meeting.

“This zoning legislation is necessary to protect the health and safety of our citizens while simultaneously providing for due process,” Dowd said. “I’m optimistic. This legislation is a starting point. Working together we can enact zoning legislation that protects citizens, guarantees due process, promotes growth and withstands legal challenges. We have done this before.”

Dowd’s proposals envision the creation of mineral extraction districts that could “accommodate the development of mineral extraction while simultaneously minimizing the adverse impacts of such uses.” The districts would operate under a mandatory mineral extraction master plan.

The proposals also require that operators get written permission from all affected property owners before drilling starts. They would also have to guarantee that their operations won’t have adverse visual, transportation, operational, health or safety impacts, or harm property values. Soil testing would also be required before drilling and after hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations.

All four of Dowd’s proposals are now under consideration by the city’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee. Nathaniel Hanson, Dowd’s press secretary, told NGI’s Shale Daily the initial discussion and a possible preliminary vote would be held on Oct. 3, the date of the standing committee’s next meeting.

“There will most likely be a move by members of council to hold a public hearing or post agenda to discuss the issue,” Hanson said Tuesday. “If that does happen, then the pieces of legislation will be held until that process has gone through, after which time it will move on to a final vote before council on the following Tuesday.”

Hanson said Dowd introduced the proposals in the wake of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court’s ruling in July that portions of Act 13, the state’s new omnibus Marcellus Shale law, were unconstitutional (see Shale Daily, July 27). That ruling has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on the case on Oct. 17 (see Shale Daily, Sept. 11).

“In accordance with the rights that were guaranteed by the Act 13 ruling, it is prudent for all municipalities, including the city of Pittsburgh, to examine the issue of mineral extraction and take steps accordingly,” Hanson said.

Asked what the city will do if the state Supreme Court overturns the lower court’s ruling, Hanson said, “If that happens, then I think that certainly municipalities will have to go and re-evaluate [their options]. But they should still try to press through different pieces of zoning legislation to work with shale developers and give them due process, while also still protecting residents.”