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Drilling Ban Referendums Get Mixed Results

Despite defeats to two voter referendums on Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania municipalities, a Pittsburgh Councilman who tried to launch a similar ballot question effort said his ardor isn't dampened.

Voters in Peters Township of Washington County voted at about a five-to-one ratio against a referendum to ban Marcellus Shale drilling, and the citizens of Warren, Pennsylvania also struck down a similar measure. In State College, though, a drilling ban referendum passed by a healthy margin.

A similar question failed to make it onto the ballot in Pittsburgh, largely through the opposition of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. But Councilman Doug Shields, who introduced the referendum, said that he thinks such measures are justified because drilling is a community concern.

"From that rig comes gathering lines that have rights-of-ways. That can have impacts on what other development may or may not come to the township, like a strip mall or something like that," said Shields. "These aren't just single well pad sites, or single compressor sites. This is essentially an overlay of an industry throughout the whole community."

Shields said that he predicts such referendums will cause legal battles throughout the state for years, but he doesn't foresee the issue of local control being resolved by one emblematic court case.

"I don't see any kind of one big flashy moment, like a Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, that immediately changes the landscape," said Shields. "I think this is going to be a slugfest of competing interests, notably between local officials and the state."

Shields credited the referendum's defeat in Peters to pro-drilling interests, including a mass mailing sent out by the township's council, which he suggested was unethical.

But the outgoing city councilman said the public is a "persuadable audience" when it comes to Marcellus Shale drilling, noting a Mercyhurst College poll in which responders' opinions of drilling differed drastically depending on whether "health and safety" were mentioned in the question.