Village Council

Drilling ban is approved

At their meeting Monday, Aug. 20, Village Council took an initial step toward becoming the first municipality in Ohio to ban fracking and injection wells within its borders.

Council passed by 3–1–1 the first reading of an ordinance to ban the oil and gas industry practices, with Judith Hempfling, Lori Askeland and Rick Walkey voting for the ban, Gerry Simms voting against and Karen Wintrow abstaining. Council will vote on the final reading of the ordinance at its next meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4.

Walkey, who had been absent when the ban was introduced at Council’s last meeting, made a strong statement in support of the ban at the beginning of the discussion.

The issue, Walkey said, is weighing “whether to expose the village to the risk of a potential lawsuit, for which the value would be known, or to expose villagers to potential contamination of air and water” and “who here can place a value on health and safety?” Walkey stated that he stands with those who assert the authority of the municipality to “protect the water supply, the health of citizens and the safety of the environment.”

The proposed ban on fracking and injection wells was brought to Council by Gas and Oil Drilling Awareness and Education, or GODAE, a group of citizens concerned about the potential effects of gas and oil drilling on the environment. Group members are Vickie Hennessy, Dimi Reber, Joe Cronin and Peggy Koebernick. While the threat of oil drilling within village limits seems slight due to the lack of available land, group members have stated that there could be a threat of companies seeking to locate injection wells in town, since they require little space and Yellow Springs sits on a geological formation considered favorable for their placement. Injection wells have been linked to earthquakes in northern Ohio, along with groundwater contamination.

The ordinance proposed by GODAE seeks to establish the municipality as having the authority to determine whether or not such practices can take place in a town, and is at odds with a 2004 Ohio state law that gives the authority for that decision only to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, or the ODNR. Since 2004 the ODNR has been largely favorable to drilling and injection well requests from oil and gas companies. The GODAE ordinance includes a citizens’ bill of rights based on the Declaration of Independence.

Because the ban would counter state law, Council Law Director John Chambers at Council’s last meeting recommended against passing it, since it could open the Village to the risk of lawsuits.

But there are two reasons to pass the ordinance, according to GODAE member Reber, who cited the first reason as the threat to the environment and the second as “the need to make a statement about citizens’ versus corporate rights” to the larger world.

“We need to give courage to others,” Reber said.

And, she said, “If the people who we elected are forbidden by law to protect us, where is our representation?”

In a statement to Council, Law Director Chambers repeated his opposition to the ban.

“This probably won‘t pass muster in the courts,” he said of the ordinance, “And it’s my job to tell you that.”

Chambers recommended that those who oppose oil and gas drilling practices seek to change the minds of state legislators rather than attempting to remedy the situation at the municipal level. However, according to Antioch College faculty member Lew Cassity, speaking to Council members, “you are my representatives” and therefore the appropriate people to address.

Cronin of GODAE said the group is ready to gather more signatures to put a referendum on the ballot if Council does not pass the ordinance. The group already presented Council with 350 signatures of village residents who support it, and Cronin said almost everyone approached signed the petition.

“There’s a strong citizen’s rights-based concern in Yellow Springs,” he said.

When Council members asked that citizens who opposed the ordinance speak, none did.

Before her abstention during the vote, Wintrow stated her conflicting feelings about the ordinance. While she is troubled by the lack of local control regarding fracking and drilling, “this is not the way to oppose” that trend, she said, stating, “I don’t think oil and gas exploration in Ohio is going away and to fight it at such a fundamental level is like chasing our tail.”

Wintrow also worried that the ordinance sends an anti-business message.

While Hempfling said she also felt concern about a potential anti-business interpretation of the fracking ban, she had decided to support it due to her concern about efforts to “disempower municipalities,” including reductions in state funding to cities and towns. She also cited concerns for the health and safety of future generations, and recent talks with her son, which had convinced her that “there is no shame in backing down” should a drilling company seek to sue the village over the ban, so that the Village would not end up suffering financially.

Stating that she hadn’t given the ordinance much thought when it was first introduced, Lori Askeland said it puts Council “between a rock and a hard place,” in pitting Council’s responsibility to protect the fiscal health of the Village against its responsibility to protect citizens’ health and welfare. However, after speaking to many people about the ordinance, including local environmental attorney Ellis Jacobs, Askeland came down on the side of voting to support it.

 

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