Niles reconsiders fracking ban

NILES – Comfortable thinking there’s no chance a drilling rig will appear in one of the neighborhoods here, but uneasy about the economic and other side effects that come with legislation that tries to ban hydraulic fracturing and related activities in city limits, one member of City Council wants to see the measure reconsidered.

So Democrat Steve Papalas says when council meets next week, there may be legislation pulling back what’s called a ”community bill of rights” and a resolution brought forward that clearly defines where council stands: that drilling should not happen in Niles’ residential neighborhoods.

”We embrace the oil and gas industry, we want the commerce, we want the business, but we do not want there to be gas wells in residential neighborhoods,” Papalas said.

Papalas’ second thoughts about the legislation council approved in August came after several members had a chance to clear up misunderstandings at a Monday meeting that included representatives from the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP); Energy in Depth, a pro-drilling group; and the anti-fracking coalition, FrackFree America.

The ordinance was passed in first reading out of fear the gas and oil industry was planning to drill wells in thickly populated areas, specifically a piece of property along Robbins Avenue. New information came to light, so city officials held Monday’s informational meeting.

Shawn Bennett, field director for Cambridge-based Energy in Depth, called the legislative bans ”boiler plate” and ”color by number” approaches by groups opposed to drilling. The measures, in reality, cannot be enforced and are unconstitutional, he said.

Those concerns, along with fear of hindering business and legal challenges ”is not what we want. We want only to protect our citizens from having their neighborhoods torn up,” Papalas said.

Bennett said the legislation as it stands has ”unintended consequences,” like prohibiting the transportation of items used in the drilling process – concrete, sand, water – through the city. Also, the legislation supercedes state law, which gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources the sole power to permit and regulate the industry, Bennett said.

The ordinance could hamper the city’s ability in the future to sell water to oil and gas companies, too, Papalas said.

John Williams, a member of FrackFree America, wants council to stand their ground.

”They are coming to Niles and I beg you guys, do not rescind, do not rescind this ordinance,” Williams said.

Susie Beiersdorfer, one of the leaders of FrackFree Mahoning Valley, said to the members of council there ”thank you for doing the right thing to protect the health and safety of the community.”

Rhonda Reda, executive director of OOGEEP, gave a 30 or so minute presentation on hydraulic fracturing, from exploration to production.

Meanwhile, a similar proposal in Youngstown is headed to the ballot in November. If approved, it would change the city’s charter fracking and other industry-related activity in the city. In May, the proposal was defeated its first time on the ballot, 43 percent for and 57 percent against.