Fracking fight goes on in Niles

NILES – Niles resident and local community activist John Williams vows he is not stopping his fight against the oil and gas industry.

Arrested for trespassing during a Nov. 24 protest at a new injection well being drilled in Weathersfield Township, Williams now is focusing on the May election.

With the help of the Committee to Keep Niles Safe, Williams hopes to get the 620 signatures needed for a “community bill of rights” initiative included on the Niles ballot.

“We don’t have all the signatures yet, but we’re confident that we’ll get there,” Williams said.

The proposal, which appeared on the Youngstown ballot in November, would ban hydraulic fracturing inside Niles city limits.

The group has until Jan. 6 to acquire the needed signatures.

Representatives in the oil and gas industry call the attempts to limit or stop drilling in Niles out of touch.

Shawn Bennett, field director for industry outreach group Energy in Depth, said the bill of rights would not affect the oil and gas industry’s ability to conduct business in the city, but it would send a distinct message.

“It would basically mean putting a ‘closed for business’ sign on the city of Niles,” Bennett said. “It would tell all of the companies in the industry that they aren’t wanted there.”

Oil and gas development in the state is regulated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. According to Bennett, even if the proposal were passed by voters, it would not affect ODNR’s ability to permit hydraulic fracturing and injection wells in the city.

A new injection well along state Route 169 in Weathersfield, just outside of Niles, is a sign of things to come, according to Williams.

He fears that the proximity of the well to downtown Niles presents an unsafe environment for residents and they should fight back.

The Class II Saltwater Injection well used for permanent disposal of oil field brine and waste thousands of feet underground. It is being drilled by Howland-based American Water Management Services.

“The problem with the injection wells are the earthquakes,” Williams said. “ODNR erred by putting this well about seven miles from the Northstar 1 injection well in Youngstown, a mile from downtown Niles and three miles from downtown Warren.”

During court proceedings on Friday, Williams was issued a $50 fine and court costs by Niles Municipal Court after setting up a blockade outside the injection well.