More than a hundred Ohioans crowded the steps of the State Capitol Tuesday demanding oil and gas reforms, and legislators may be listening.
Democrat state Rep. Denise Driehaus is pushing for immediate committee hearings on bills that would temporarily stop hydraulic fracturing and increase transparency within the fracking process, the process of extracting gas and oil from underground deposits.
Almost 200 people opposed to the method of drilling for natural resources on Tuesday greeted returning state lawmakers with a Statehouse protest.
No Frack Ohio on Tuesday called on legislators to ban what's called fracking, a process that blasts pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to release gas and oil reserves. The group also wants a ban on deep injection wells that hold drilling wastewater.
Gov. John Kasich halted wastewater injection at five Youngstown area wells after 11 earthquakes hit the area. However, he says he doesn't want concerns over wastewater disposal to hinder the Ohio jobs promised by shale drilling.
State natural resources officials note dozens of similar injection wells have operated around Ohio for decades without problems. They plan to attend a community forum today in Youngstown.
Ohio bills on the topic of Tuesday's Columbus protest were introduced in October and referred to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Neither has received a hearing.
''These bills will allow Ohio to take the time to make appropriate and responsible decisions in order to protect our citizens and the water they drink while also increasing the transparency of fracking procedures and operations,'' Driehaus of Price Hill wrote last week to committee chairman, Millersburg Republican State Rep. David Hall.
''Many other states have not taken the necessary time to consider all the factors regarding this process and the disposal of fracking by-products and have thus faced many difficulties protecting their land, water and citizens,'' Driehaus wrote.
House Bill 345, introduced by Driehaus and Democrat Tracy Maxwell Heard would place a temporary moratorium on fracking in Ohio while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency studies the relationship between fracking and drinking water.
House Bill 351, introduced by Democrats Nickie J. Antonio and Teresa Fedor, would put into place rules and regulations over the fracking process, plus it creates a seven cent overriding royalty charged to permit holders, if well stimulation is used in a well.
The money would be used for surface and groundwater testing and to remediate or repair any water well or ground water adversely impacted by drilling or operation of an oil or natural gas well.
At the local level, Mahoning Valley community governments also actively are pursuing information about how they can protect their residents.
Girard City Council passed a resolution Monday in support of an immediate temporary ban on injection wells.
Law Director Brian Kren said the measure in no way attempts to exert any authority over the oil and gas industry, but merely supports lawmakers' efforts to regulate injection wells.
''My understanding is that the state has the sole authority to regulate the issue," Kren said.
Also Monday, Liberty Township trustees voted down a resolution to seek a legal opinion and legal assistance in researching the matter.
''It's not fair to the citizens of Liberty to be spending their money and not accomplish anything,'' said trustee Stan Nudell. ''We're getting information without that cost directly from the state. The attorney general's office is supporting us with all the information we need.''
Nudell said state officials have told him their hands are tied as well and the real authority on oil and gas regulation lies in federal hands.
''We're going to look into what we can do in terms of supporting a ban until safety measures can be taken," Nudell said.
Multiple political leaders have issued letters and requests to state government agencies to halt gas and oil activities, most specifically deep-well injection disposal of brine wastewater since the Dec. 31 4.0-magnitude earthquake.
One day after state officials met with representatives of D&L Energy Group to discuss conditions for reopening an injection well suspected of a link to earthquakes, state Rep. Sean O'Brien called for permanent closure of that site.
O'Brien has arranged for a hearing before the state natural resources and agriculture subcommittee at 10 a.m. Jan. 17 in the Chestnut Room of Kilcawley Center on the campus of Youngstown State University.
Days prior, U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Niles, shared with reporters a letter he sent to ODNR Director James Zehringer that addressed agency grant waivers that allow higher-than-normal injection pressures at well sites such as the Ohio Works well, fault line detection in the well permitting process and updated controls for the agency's Underground Injection Control Program for Class II wells.
Ryan requested a meeting with Zehringer to discuss his constituents' concerns and agency policy regarding injection wells.
"It is critical that we view the entire cycle, from development to production to site reclamation, as equally important steps in natural gas exploration. This especially includes how we as a state and a country develop responsible oversight of the hydraulic fracturing byproduct disposal process so the industry can continue to flourish, while also keeping our communities safe."
The D & L Energy injection well on Ohio Works Drive in Youngstown has been closed since the day before the New Year's Eve earthquake. After the quake, Gov. John Kasich issued a ban all all injection wells activity in a five mile radius, while State Rep. Bob Hagan petitioned for a complete halt to any drilling activity in the state until more information could be found.
"If they're going to make millions and millions of dollars, they're going to do it right, as far as I'm concerned," Hagan said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.