Does Youngstown really seek to go backwards in its attitude and policy over the lucrative arena of oil and natural-gas drilling?
Some rightly may pose that question with news that a coalition of activists is working to place an anti-fracking initiative on the Nov. 5 city ballot, a mere six months after voters soundly defeated the same proposal in this spring’s primary. Some may call the activists’ rapid rebound bold and brassy. We call it brazen and brainless.
The proposal deserves to be stopped in its tracks before making it to the Board of Elections for certification and ballot placement. Those asked to sign ballot petitions for the proposal should kindly decline by citing the same warehouse of good reasons why voters rejected it the first time less than three months ago.
One need only look at other places that have enacted similar ill-advised fracking bans based on fears and fragmented facts. Today, many realize the errors of their ways and are involved in long and complex processes to undo the damage. In Youngstown, there will be no need for such backpedaling as long as the proposed city charter amendment gains no traction. Look at France, for example. The French General Assembly two years ago made France the first and only major Western nation to unilaterally outlaw hydraulic fracturing. Today, constitutional challenges to that national law abound and reach to France’s highest court. What’s more, some officials including Environment Minister Delphine Batho coyly seek to skirt the ban through technicalities.
Or look closer to home in Pittsburgh. Two years ago, City Council there enacted a ban on hydraulic fracturing, complete with the so-called populist-ringing “Community Bill of Rights” sought by the Youngstown activists. Today, Pittsburgh City Councilman Patrick Dowd has proposed legislation to eliminate the ban and replace it with strict zoning regulations for gas extraction. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is leading the charge for repeal: “We don’t believe warding off an industry that is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs is prudent.”
OPPOSITION REASONS REINFORCED
Nor would it be prudent in Youngstown. To reiterate our opposition to the charter issue:
It would be unenforceable. In a ruling earlier this spring from Ohio’s 9th District Court of Appeals, the judges affirmed that Ohio Revised Code section 1509.02 gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mineral Resources Management, exclusive authority over drilling permits, pre-empting any local ordinances. Municipalities can regulate excavation and right-of-way usage and construction, but have no authority over drilling.
Evidence continues to mount that hydraulic fracturing is safe when performed responsibly. Preliminary results released last week from a Pennsylvania study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy concluded that hydraulic fracturing has no effect on drinking water. And for those who don’t employ responsible methods, such as D&L Energy that dumped brine waste into the Mahoning River earlier this year, prosecution should be swift and severe.
It would scare off potential economic development. Had the community bill of rights passed in May, it would have clearly had the potential to send a message to industry — not just the oil and gas industry — that Youngstown was not a welcoming community. Just as the city is beginning to make visible inroads toward economic recovery, such a stigma could stymie the city’s growth potential exponentially.
Finally, should the initiative make it to the General Election ballot and in the unlikely event that city residents would change their minds so quickly to support it, Youngstown would likely find itself in the same dire straits as the nation of France and the city of Pittsburgh – wasting considerable time, effort and money reversing the backward-rolling impact of the ill-conceived charter amendment.