Niles council votes to oppose drilling

NILES – In an attempt to stop deep well hydraulic fracturing within the city limits, council voted unanimously Wednesday evening to adopt a “community bill of rights.”

The measure challenges the constitutionality of new shale gas and oil extraction in Niles, officials said.

Law Director Terry Dull said this kind of ordinance is a new tool available to cities and townships in the fight against deep well drilling.

In the past, Dull said, local ordinances prohibiting fracking were believed to be superseded by permits issued by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“This is more of a constitutional argument,” Dull said of the ordinance. “If we have to go to court, this will be one more argument we can use.”

The ordinance was passed as an emergency measure by a 6-0 vote.

According to city officials, the legislation needed to be enacted quickly due to a property along Main Street recently given a permit for deep well drilling. That property – located at 1818 N. Main St. – sits between Niles and Weathersfield.

Niles Mayor Ralph A. Infante told council he expects a similar resolution to pass in Weathersfield.

“We want to try to stop these because we’re worried if they get that permit, turn around and do that, it would ruin that whole property for us and Weathersfield,” Infante said. “Weathersfield is with us on this.”

The proximity to the new Niles city school buildings is one of the issues Infante noted as concerns with the potential well site.

“We have a school that is less than 500 feet from it,” Infante said. “A brand new school put up on North Road and Main Street and this property is right adjacent to it. We’re worried about that.”

In addition, Infante cited other properties of concern which he believes are close to obtaining permits, including one along Robbins Avenue.

“What’s going to happen? Are we going to have a smokestack on Robbins Avenue on a deep well? Is that what we want?” Infante asked council.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a process of accessing petroleum-locked shale thousands of feet below the earths surface. The process involves pumping millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into the rocks thousands of feet down in order to free the petroleum products trapped there.

Councilman Steve Papalas told members he is not against fracking, but it should be done away from highly populated areas.

“This is the most serious issue we are hearing tonight,” Papalas said. “It deals with deep wells which could possibly be drilled right in our city. I don’t personally have a problem with them so long as it is out in the country where they have wide open land and aren’t in the city limits.”

According to Dull, five other communities across Ohio have enacted similar ordinances, but none has gone to court yet. Officials said they are willing to take the issue to a judge if necessary.

A similar goal has been sought through different means in Youngstown.

In May, the Youngstown, Ohio, Community Bill of Rights Committee had placed on the primary ballot a measure to ban fracking and other oil and gas-related activities inside city limits.

The group believes the bill of rights would ensure citizens’ rights to safe drinking water, clean air and land and to local self-governance.

Area economic development leaders have said passage would force stoppage of all natural gas and oil-related operations in that city, lead to economic downturn and hurt property owners who choose to allow drilling on their property.

The Youngstown measure was defeated handily but has been placed on the November general election ballot.