YOUNGSTOWN - Opponents and supporters of leasing city-owned property for natural gas and oil drilling had another chance Tuesday evening to speak out at a public hearing on the controversial topic.
But even if Youngstown City Council passes the measure on third reading tonight, the question still remains whether drillers will even seek the mineral rights.
On Tuesday, council members heard from concerned citizens, scientists and state legislators for and against fracking within city limits during a public hearing.
Most of those in attendance used their two minutes to speak against the legislation, with 15 to 20 stepping up to the microphone.
"It is untested, deregulated, dangerous. Do your research,'' Youngstown resident Lynn Anderson said. ''It's not about money, people. This is democracy. You're going to kill your citizens.''
A few folks among the crowd of about 65 do support leasing mineral rights to the energy companies. Among them was Tony Paglia of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber. He said money generated from drilling could be used for demolition, which is something Youngstown Mayor Chuck Sammarone has said he also supports.
Fourth Ward City Councilman Mike Ray said, "I think they support it as a form of economic development. Again, I support all forms of reasonable economic development, and I think we need to proceed with caution.''
Ray said he believes there's enough support on council to pass the ordinance and at least listen to proposals from oil and gas companies.
But so far, many drilling companies exploring options in the Mahoning Valley have been passing on the opportunity to purchase mineral rights in heavily developed metropolitan areas like Youngstown, Austintown and Boardman, opting instead for more rural areas of Trumbull and Mahoning counties.
Curtis L. Thomas, Director of Government and Public Affairs for BP in Ohio, the company that has leased more than 80,000 acres of mineral rights in much of rural Trumbull County, said drillers often attempt to avoid downtown areas and neighborhoods because of the truck traffic and smaller parcels of land.
Still, it depends on where the most productive portion of the Utica Shale, or so-called "sweet spot," turns out to be, explained Michelle Chippas, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Petroleum Council and Ohio Energy Resource Alliance. If that turns out to be in an urban area, then drillers certainly will do what they have to do to access it.
''Gas companies want to be good community neighbors,'' Chippas said.
Brian Hickman, communications director and governmental affairs manager for the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, pointed out that any drilling in the Utica Shale Play right now is still exploratory.
''They are testing the acreage right now,'' Hickman said. And until the companies determine the location of that sweet spot, companies most likely will stay in areas where they have larger spans of uninhibited acreage.
''Some of these companies may not have the acreage required to get drilling permits right now, so they might be testing the acreage they have," Hickman said.
And whether interest shifts to more urban areas will depend on the results of the early and exploratory drilling, Hickman and BP's Thomas said.
The Youngstown council legislation set for a third reading during council's regular meeting tonight would authorize the Board of Control to seek competitive proposals and enter into a contract to lease city-owned land for oil and natural gas extraction.
The proposal brought about in recent months by Sammarone was met with opposition and urging to delay any vote until there is more research.
State Rep. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, urged council to proceed with the ''utmost caution and vigilance in order to best protect our families, communities and environment.''
On Tuesday, he asked council members, "What studies have you used? What have you done? I'd like you to tell the public exactly what studies you're using that make a decision about fracking in the city of Youngstown.''
Sammarone had proposed the idea as a method to generate revenue that he suggests be used to demolish vacant and blighted properties inside city limits.
Proponents of drilling maintain that there isn't any correlation, and that this type of drilling has been going on for decades without contamination problems.
WYTV 33 News contributed to this report.