By Jordan Cohen
Niles City Council, which less than three weeks ago unanimously passed an ordinance banning oil and gas drilling activity within city limits, is on the verge of rescinding the ordinance.
Council has learned that much of it may violate Ohio and federal laws, and possibly keep the city from selling its own water.
“I’m seriously considering bringing up rescinding it,” said Councilman Steve Papalas, D-at large, after chairing a lengthy and sometimes heated roundtable meeting Monday in which one representative of the oil and gas industry said he did not believe the ordinance could stand up against a court challenge.
Shawn Bennett, field director for Energy In Depth, an outreach group funded by the oil and gas industry, told council that the Niles ban violates state law, which gives the authority for well permits solely to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The ordinance is modeled on the Community Bill of Rights, an anti-drilling bill adopted by a number of municipalities to block drilling in general and extraction from shale using the hydraulic fracturing method or “fracking” in particular.
“There are unintended consequences in the Community Bill of Rights,” Bennett said. As an example, he cited a provision that bars storing or transporting “produced” water through the city.
“This would stop the city from selling water to energy companies or to other municipalities,” Bennett said. “If you do that, you would be in violation of your own ordinance.”
He also said another provision that declares the city “free of chemical trespass” could force it to shut down its own power plant.
“Niles council is closed for business,” Bennett said.
Council acted last month after receiving an e-mail from John Williams, an anti-fracking activist, who warned of imminent drilling operations planned along Robbins Avenue. Papalas told The Vindicator earlier, however, that he believed that the area is too congested for drilling because a five-acre clearance for a well pad is required — an amount of space unavailable in neighborhoods on Robbins Avenue, according to the councilman.
Williams, who attended the roundtable, was not convinced. “They’re coming to Niles and I’m begging do not rescind the ordinance,” he shouted. Several members of Frack-Free Mahoning, an anti-drilling group, also voiced support for the ordinance.
After the meeting, Mayor Ralph Infante said he is still opposed to drilling in neighborhoods but agreed that council needs to discuss the ordinance in its entirety. Infante, however, stopped short of supporting its repeal.
“I think some parts may need to be rescinded,” he said.