Group urges setting precedent in opposing oil, gas drilling
- Published: July 5, 2012
Yellow Springs would be the first community in Ohio to ban oil and gas drilling and waste wells within its municipal limits using a rights-based ordinance, if organizers with the local group Gas and Oil Drilling Awareness and Education, or GODAE, have their way.
The group will promote the oil and gas drilling legislation it drafted for Yellow Springs Village Council at a public forum from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Antioch University Midwest Auditorium. Speakers at the event, also co-sponsored by Green Environmental Coalition and the AUM Sustainability Program, will share information on why southwest Ohio may soon be targeted for waste injection wells and how the Village can challenge state laws preempting local control over oil and gas drilling.
“It’s important to establish this notion that we have a right to be in charge of our own health and welfare,” said drilling awareness group organizer Dimi Reber on the ordinance.
In the group’s draft legislation, the extraction of oil and gas or the siting of injection wells within Yellow Springs would constitute a threat to local health and safety and therefore be prohibited. However, the local ordinance may not be enforceable and could be challenged in court since it is preempted by state law, according to Village Solicitor John Chambers.
“If the Village tried to enforce it they could be taken to court by anyone who wants to drill,” Chambers said.
Several communities in Ohio had ordinances on the books restricting drilling until a 2004 state law took away control over oil and gas drilling from local communities and gave all authority to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Mineral Resources Management, which now oversees oil and gas drilling in the state.
Eric Belcastro of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, who will speak at the forum, said the proposed ordinance asserts that the village has a right to clean air and clean water and indirectly challenges corporate personhood by forcing companies to argue that their rights trump the rights of local citizens, an argument few want to make publicly.
“They are pro-rights documents rather than anti-fracking documents,” Belcastro said of the proposed ordinance. So far the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund has pushed through 12 similar measures in Pennsylvania and New York and is drafting language for ordinances for Athens, Mansfield and Coitsville Township in Ohio. None of the approved legislation has yet to be enforced, nor has it been challenged in court, Belcastro said.
The Yellow Springs ordinance would create a “community bill of rights” for both local residents and “natural communities” and subordinate corporate privilege to the rights of people. It formally “removes legal powers and authority from gas and oil extraction corporations within the Village, in recognition that those legal powers are illegitimate and unjust,” according to the ordinance.
Last year Village Council passed a resolution calling on the state to put a moratorium on fracking, but Gov. John Kasich did not respond and later opened state parks to oil and gas drilling. While that local resolution was akin to “sending a wish in the direction of Columbus,” this new legislation would go much further, Reber said.
“That action is waiting for the state to do something and this is saying this is where we are and if you come to us we’re going to argue it,” Reber said. And though the proposed ordinance may not be enforceable, it’s important that the Village take a stand, she said.
“There are many things that were not legal that needed to be changed, like women’s suffrage and slavery,” Reber said. “Challenging the status quo is, in this case, asking for justice and empowering the local community to take care of itself when no one else is taking care of it.”
The drilling awareness group formed last fall in response to an increase in drilling pressure in the region by Michigan oil company West Bay Exploration. The company has received permits from ODNR to drill conventional oil wells without fracking on the Acton property nearby in Miami Township and on another property in Greene County near Caesar’s Creek, but no drilling has occurred to date. Meanwhile, West Bay struck oil this month at a well in northwestern Clark County, though the company has yet to determine if the well will produce in sufficient quantities.
A more likely threat to the area may be the siting of Class II injection wells, in which the brine waste fluids from fracking operations are disposed in underground reservoirs, according to drilling awareness group organizers. Soil scientist and forum presenter Julie Weatherington-Rice said that certain geological factors make southwest Ohio a prime location for future Class II injection wells. Though no such wells are currently located in this part of the state, Weatherington-Rice foresees a coming rush, as Ohio may accept more brine from nearby fracked wells in Pennsylvania. But the brine injected in such wells could easily be reused, Weatherington-Rice said, thereby avoiding the earthquakes and aquifer contamination associated with injection wells.
“Ohio doesn’t have this amazing geology that can swallow waste and never belch it back,” Weatherington-Rice said of such contamination. “We’re creating a legacy for our children and grandchildren.”
But Weatherington-Rice, for one, is optimistic that southwestern Ohio communities can protect themselves from oil and gas drilling and injection well contamination since they have taken action to protect their water resources in the past.
“I don’t know a part of Ohio that is braver and that has more foresight than southwest Ohio,” she said.
For more information on the forum, contact Dimi Reber at 937-767-1078.