The Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance prohibiting natural gas drilling in the city, despite questions about the ordinance’s legality.

The ordinance, which was approved by a unanimous vote, would add “Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling” to a list of regulated rights and actions covered by Pittsburgh code and establish “a bill of rights for Pittsburgh residents and remove legal powers from gas extraction corporations within the city” in an effort to “protect the health, safety and welfare of residents and neighborhoods.”

Opponents of the ordinance have said they may challenge the drilling ban in court. Such a prohibition may only be put in place by state or federal authorities, they say.

The council’s approval of the ordinance was “an expected, yet disappointing outcome,” said Kathryn Klaber, Marcellus Shale Coalition executive director. “The vote represents a blow to the city’s weak financial standing, and at the same time is a straightforward attack on individual property rights. At a time when the natural gas industry is generating jobs and prosperity for tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians and economic development across the commonwealth, it’s unfortunate that the council continues to maintain a shortsighted view regarding responsible shale gas development and its overwhelmingly positive economic, environmental and energy security benefits.”

The ordinance doesn’t particularly worry drillers. Plenty of acreage has been leased in Pittsburgh by companies operating in the surrounding Marcellus Shale, but they have yet to apply to the city for any drilling permits, according to Councilman Doug Shields, who drafted the ordinance with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (see Shale Daily, Nov. 16). But the ordinance — and the potential legal battle it may trigger — is needed because Pennsylvania put all of its drilling regulations in place before technological advances made drilling in the Marcellus Shale economically viable, Shields told NGI’s Shale Daily.

“This state does not have the proper regulatory environment at all to handle what we’ve got. The Marcellus Shale came into being about six years ago and it was all good…but as we learned what was going on with how this processing of hydrofracking [hydraulic fracturing] goes, [we realized] we don’t really have much of anything going on to protect us environmentally.”

The ordinance is set to become effective upon the mayor’s signature or 10 days after Tuesday’s vote.