By Jordan Cohen
In a move to permanently ban shale drilling within city limits, council Wednesday unanimously approved a “community bill of rights” that prohibits future gas and oil extractions.
The ordinance claims such activities including disposal of fracking wastes, “violate the civil rights of Niles residents because they threaten the health, safety and welfare of residents and neighborhoods.”
The ordinance also takes the unusual step of “removing legal powers and authority” from corporations that violate the ban because “they place the rights of a corporate minority over rights and political authority of a majority of Niles residents.”
Terry Dull, city law director, said the law was drafted for the city at no charge by an attorney representing the Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has written similar ordinances for other cities. However, Dull said that these ordinances have not yet been tested in court.
Mayor Ralph Infante said he believes a permit has been granted for a well in Weathersfield Township that abuts city limits. Infante also expressed concern about a well alongside the city’s Robbins Avenue.
“If we don’t act now, we’re going to be in big trouble,” Infante said.
“I have no problem with fracking as long as it is not in city limits,” said Councilman Steve Papalas, D-at large. “They should be drilling out in the country.”
It is the second time in less than a year that council has passed legislation seeking to stop drilling within the city. Last October, the city amended the zoning ordinance to prohibit the building and operation of saltwater and other types of injection wells that handle brine and other waste materials from oil and gas drilling.
Dull acknowledged that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which issues permits, can supersede the city’s authority under current law, but said if there is a dispute over a permit within Niles, the city will use its community bill of rights to challenge the ODNR decision.