Niles council has second thoughts about anti-drilling ordinance

By Jordan Cohen


City council may be having second thoughts about an ordinance it passed unanimously last month permanently banning shale drilling within city limits.

At least one councilman says council’s action may have resulted from “misinformation” provided by an environmental group.

“I’m thinking we were sold a bill of goods,” said Steve Papalas, D-at large, who has scheduled a roundtable meeting at city hall Monday to discuss the ramifications of the ordinance.

“We were told it was only a matter of time before one of those wells would be located off Robbins Avenue but from what we’re finding out, that may not be the case.”

Monday’s 1 p.m. public meeting will be in a conference room at City Hall. No legislation will be passed there.

The ordinance containing a “community bill of rights” that bans drilling, including the process commonly known as “fracking,” was written by an attorney for the Environmental Legal Defense Fund, an anti-drilling group, according to Niles Law Director Terrence Dull.

Papalas said the law may have gone too far.

“As I understand it, under the ordinance we cannot conduct commerce with anyone from the oil and gas industry,” Papalas said.

“Even if we wanted to sell water and electricity [to them], we couldn’t do it the way the ordinance is worded.”

Since the ordinance was passed, Papalas said the chamber of commerce and several labor unions have complained to council members about the ordinance and its impact on business and jobs.

“When you’ve got the chamber and labor agreeing on something, that’s noteworthy,” he said.

Papalas said council’s action was in response to an e-mail warning of shale drilling planned for Robbins and Cleveland avenues. The e-mail, made available to The Vindicator, claims that Chesapeake, a major energy company, “has purchased the rights” to a well on the site.

Papalas said, however, that he and council President Robert Marino were told by two organizations representing the oil and gas industry that such a drilling operation could not occur at Robbins and Cleveland because the area is too densely populated.

“They told us they would need a clear 5-acre area to put the well pad in and there is nothing like that available,” Papalas said.

Marino confirmed the energy company representatives would attend Monday’s roundtable to discuss the ordinance.

“I’m hoping this will be an educational meeting for all of us so that we can better understand these issues,” the council president said.

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