By David Skolnick
A city councilwoman is sponsoring an ordinance to ban injection wells in Youngstown even though she and other officials say the proposal is unenforceable.
The bill’s lone sponsor, Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, said she hopes council approves the ordinance at its Wednesday meeting. The proposal would ban all new and existing well sites used to dispose of brine wastewater, a byproduct of fracking.
Even if council doesn’t pass the proposal Wednesday, “it will create a lot of conversation,” she said. “I’m sure they’re going to discuss it.”
Tarpley acknowledges the state — not the city — “has the right to oversee” the permitting of injection wells.
The proposal is “not illegal, but it’s unenforceable,” said city Law Director Anthony Farris. “It’s largely a symbolic measure and not enforceable unless the state law changes.”
Control over permitting injection wells and fracking rests with the state.
“Under current Ohio law, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is authorized to regulate the oil and gas industry from permitting to plugging,” said Heidi Hetzel-Evans, an agency spokeswoman. “ODNR has regulatory authority over production and disposal.”
Rather than a resolution expressing the city’s concern over the wells, Tarpley said an ordinance is a stronger, though unenforceable, statement.
Other cities — including Niles, Cincinnati, Yellow Springs and Mansfield — have already voted to ban injecting the oil- and gas-drilling wastewater into their communities. But they aren’t enforceable.
“No matter what we pass, we can’t supersede state law,” said Mayor Charles Sammarone.
It’s the latest turn in Youngstown’s relationship with the oil and gas industry.
City officials embrace a $1.1 billion expansion project by V&M Star, which produces tubes for the growing industry. The plant started operating Oct. 26 and is scheduled to begin sales at the site next year.
At the request of the city administration, council voted 5-2 on Oct. 17 to allow the city to solicit offers from companies to lease city-owned land for gas and oil drilling. That came over the protests of dozens of people opposed to the drilling.
But the city has had issues with brine-injection wells for over a year.
The final straw came Dec. 31 of last year when the most serious of a series of 13 earthquakes was recorded in Youngstown with the epicenter near an injection well off of Ohio Works Drive in the city. After the Dec. 31 4.0-magnitude earthquake, the state stepped in and shut down that injection well owned by D&L Energy Group. The state also “indefinitely suspended” any other potential injection wells within a seven-mile radius from operating, Hetzel-Evans said.
ODNR “has no plans to lift that unless we find scientific evidence that gives us a different picture as to what occurred,” she said.
Four other proposed injection wells are in that radius.
“I don’t feel really comfortable with injection wells,” said Tarpley, who voted in favor of permitting fracking on city-owned land as a way to generate money for Youngstown’s housing demolition program. “The reason to do this now is there could be other injection wells in the future.”
City officials say it will be several months or a year before it would consider seeking proposals from companies to drill.
A preliminary report by ODNR said the earthquakes, between March 17, 2011, and last Jan. 13, were linked to the well. D&L disagreed, but the ban remains.
“The Youngstown event was a very rare occurrence,” Hetzel-Evans said.
Injection wells are a disposal method for brine, a salty, chemical byproduct of natural-gas and oil drilling. D&L drilled the nearly 9,300-foot well into the Precambrian bedrock formation, a nearly impermeable rock formation at about 9,000 feet below ground in the Mahoning Valley.
Also Wednesday, council will consider a Sammarone-sponsored ordinance to lower the annual base-pay salary of vacant or soon-to-be-vacant management positions by 20 percent if the city hires replacements.
The 20-percent cut would start the day a replacement is hired, and it would take up to six years of service to get back to the existing annual salary.