By Jordan Cohen
City council plans to rescind an ordinance passed last month that would ban oil and gas drilling within city limits.
The action, planned for its regular meeting tonight, follows a roundtable meeting last week at which industry representatives warned that the ordinance is likely to be found unconstitutional in the event of a lawsuit against it.
Under state law, only the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has the authority to approve drilling permits.
Wording of the ordinance would have not only blocked drilling but also would have prohibited the city from selling water to energy companies or other municipalities, according to city officials.
In addition, a representative of area labor unions said the ordinance could eliminate potential jobs for Niles residents.
In its place, council plans to approve a resolution asking the governor and state Legislature to encourage the ODNR not to approve permits for drilling in neighborhoods.
“We first passed this to protect residential areas and I still want to protect them [against drilling],” said Mayor Ralph Infante, who added he was not surprised by the negative response the city received after the ordinance was passed.
Councilman Steve Papalas, D-at large, said he was swayed by what he heard at last week’s roundtable, especially when he learned that there would not be enough acreage available for a well platform within the neighborhoods under the ODNR requirements.
Councilman Ed Stredney, D-3rd, said he will vote for the resolution rescinding the ordinance, but also said he opposes drilling within residential areas.
“I just think it’s something that can be done out in the country where farmers are being compensated very well,” Stredney said.
“I don’t think it’s something that has to be done in city limits or in our parks.”
Council’s approval of the banning ordinance Aug. 21 came after an email sent to the city by John Williams, an anti-drilling activist, warned of a drilling operation planned along a residential area near Robbins Avenue.
Papalas and Infante said that after investigating they believe ODNR would not likely grant a drilling permit there because the neighborhood is too heavily populated and lacks adequate acreage for a well pad.
The banning ordinance was based on the “Community Bill of Rights” drafted by the Environmental Legal Defense Fund, an environmental group that drew up similar ordinances for other cities.