A coalition of grassroots organizations in Ohio has started a campaign to restore local governments' ability to regulate oil and natural gas drilling, a "home rule" power that could potentially be used by opponents of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to ban the practice in their communities.
Ron Prosek, vice president of nonprofit group Network for Oil and Gas Accountability and Protection (NEOGAP), told NGI the group is trying to persuade localities across the state to enact nonbinding resolutions asking the state government to restore home rule for oil and gas drilling. State lawmakers stripped localities of that power when they passed HB 278 in 2004.
"The move now is to get a great number of local governments to work on nonbinding resolutions," Prosek said. "That way there can be a strong voice to the state government to say we really want our control back so we can regulate this."
Asked what the reception has been so far, Prosek said several townships have acted on their own to pass nonbinding resolutions this year and in previous years. "We're in the initial stages with this," Prosek said, adding that NEOGAP has created a suggested guide for localities to follow. "Many [localities] have been consulted on this, so a lot of them are thinking about it. It's just a matter of getting them to go ahead and do it. We're trying to get them passed within a reasonably short timeframe. That way it would be like one voice speaking."
Plain Township Trustee Louis Giavasis told NGI his community, located in Stark County, passed nonbinding resolutions in 2010 and 2011, urging the state to restore home rule for oil and gas drilling. He said he was contacted by NEOGAP about two weeks ago to support yet another nonbinding resolution, but voiced concern about redundancy. "I think each individual community ought to be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want this industry to move into their community," Giavasis said. "And if they do want it in their community, they should be able to decide where they might locate, like any other industrial business."
Prosek said the group Ohioans for Health, Environment and Justice was also leading the home rule effort. Other groups reportedly involved include Concerned Citizens of Stark County, Concerned Citizens of Portage County and Greenpeace USA.
Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the key lobbyist behind HB 278's passage, told NGI that restoring oil and gas home rule to localities would be detrimental to development in the state. "It would mean that we would possibly have literally thousands of jurisdictions all deciding how they each individually would regulate oil and gas," Stewart said. "What they're really doing is denying their citizens within their jurisdictions access to their mineral and correlative rights."
Home rule, like fracking, is also being debated in the neighboring New York and Pennsylvania. In New York, the State Assembly is considering bill A3245, which would empower localities to regulate oil and gas drilling and mining activities. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania's omnibus Marcellus Shale law, Act 13, gave local governments the power to impose a 15-year impact fee on unconventional gas wells in exchange for adopting state zoning rules (see related story and NGI, Feb. 20).
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