By Jordan Cohen
City council unani- mously repealed its ordinance banning oil and gas drilling in the city limits before a council chamber packed with anti-drilling advocates pleading for council to keep the ban and labor unions encouraging its repeal.
“The oil and gas industry has put money in our pockets, and we support economic development,” Don Crane, president of the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council said at Wednesday night’s meeting. “You don’t want to scare off companies.”
Council had passed the ordinance, known as the “Community Bill of Rights,” Aug. 21 after learning about possible plans for a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operation in a Robbins Avenue neighborhood.
Council members, however, began changing their minds after hearing from industry representatives that the neighborhoods did not contain sufficient acreage to set up a well for shale drilling.
There also were constitutional questions about the ban since state law gives authority to issue drilling permits only to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
John Williams, a Niles resident active in fighting drilling in the city, argued that repeal would open the door for fracking in residential areas. “You can’t say you’re going to rescind, but don’t want drilling in the neighborhoods,” Williams said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Williams said he intends to start a petition immediately to put the ban on the ballot in Niles next spring. “I need 620 signatures, and I will get them and put [it] on the ballot word for word,” he told council.
Mike Rapovy, a representative of the regional council of carpenters and a former Youngstown councilman, doubted a ballot vote will succeed.
“Voters in Youngstown said ‘no’ to the Community Bill of Rights, and we’ll do it again,” he told council. An anti-fracking ordinance defeated in Youngstown last May will be back on the ballot in November.
Several union leaders endorsed the industry’s safety standards for wells, but their opponents were not swayed.
“Man-made disasters do happen,” said Alice Lynd, a Niles resident. Other drilling opponents from Lorain and Broadview Heights also addressed council.
Councilman Steve Papalas, D-at large, said, however, he felt the repeal was the right step to take. “I’m confident that we have regulations in place to protect our communities,” Papalas said. “We can’t afford not to look at this new industry that might help our tax base.”
Councilman Ed McCormick, D-4th, said that although he supported the repeal, he would be willing to reconsider if the situation changes.
Moments after the repeal vote, council passed a resolution opposing surface drilling for shale gas and oil in residential neighborhoods. The resolution will be sent to the governor and state Legislature.