By Tom McParland
Amid a fresh push to win over public support, supporters of a charter amendment to ban hydraulic fracturing within city limits Tuesday commemorated the second anniversary of a New Year’s Eve earthquake that was linked to fracking.
Members of FrackFree Mahoning Valley and supporters of the Community Bill of Rights have put the measure on the ballot twice in Youngstown. Both times they failed to amend the city’s charter.
But supporters announced Monday that they are going door-to-door to secure petitions to once again put the measure on the May ballot, as a part of an expanded effort that includes a push to pass a similar measure in Niles.
Proponents in both cities took to the streets with signs Tuesday. The simultaneous gatherings were meant to coincide with the exact time that the magnitude-4.0 quake shook the Mahoning Valley about 3:05 p.m. in 2011.
That New Year’s Eve tremor, linked to a D&L Energy Inc. brine-injection well, was the most significant of a string of quakes felt across the Mahoning Valley that year.
Amendment supporters cited the importance of self-governance and environmental concerns, including past earthquakes and the potential impact on the area’s water supply.
“This time we will win because the citizens of Youngstown want to keep living here,” said Lynn Anderson of FrackFree Mahoning at the at the downtown gathering at West Federal Street and Market Street. “They want to be able to drink their water from the Meander Reservoir, which right now is under threat.”
They said the amendment’s support is growing in the community, as supporters continue to visit and call voters.
In a press release this week, Susie Beiersdorfer, a geologist and Youngstown Community Bill of Rights Committee member, said that public opinion has turned in the group’s favor, since their efforts began.
“We now have a powerful base of almost 5,000 Youngstown voters that could easily sway an election or ballot question. We will win this time because the truth resonates,” Beiersdorfer said in a statement.
“The gap is closing in our favor, and we soundly gained ground in November.”
According to CBR supporters, the margin of the amendment’s defeat fell by four percentage points in November, compared with the first time it came to a vote in May.
But opponents dismissed the gain merely as a product of the election cycle, and not an influx of public support.
“The presidential [election] brings out more voters than any time in the four years,” said Tom Humphries, president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, which has strongly opposed the amendment.
Humphries said that while the margin of the amendment’s second defeat did decrease in terms of percentage, November’s election brought more people to the polls, and the number of voters opposing the measure increased significantly.
“We believe the public has spoken,” he said.
Regional Chamber representatives expressed concern that continued efforts to pass the measure could send mixed signals to the industry, negatively affecting both the shale industry and the supporting industries that have developed around it to meet the infrastructure demands of drilling.
“It’s not just about oil and gas. It’s about industry,” said chamber spokesman Tony Paglia.
Amendment supporter Jean Engle on Friday said the environmental costs of fracking outweigh the economic boost, which she said is not as significant as advertised.
“The promised jobs are not materializing, as they said they would. They are going to people out of the area, and those jobs are going to leave with those guys,” she said.
Both sides will likely mobilize with education and outreach efforts in the community, with both sides vowing to get the word out.
“A lot of it is just footwork, and getting out there with our message,” Engle said.
“So, I think that’s what we are counting on, more public awareness.”