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Ohio Activists Vow to Keep Pushing Anti-Fracking Measure After Third Rejection

For the third time in a year, voters in Youngstown, OH, on Tuesday rejected a referendum calling for a charter amendment that would have banned horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and related industrial activity within city limits.

The measure was defeated 54- 46% (3,674 to 3,100 votes). The tally was a bit closer this time around, but fell in line with earlier votes, when the referendum failed 57-43% in May 2013 (see Shale DailyMay 9, 2013) and 55-45% in November 2013 (see Shale DailyNov. 6, 2013).

"For a third time on this issue, Youngstown voters have said they support jobs and opportunity in Youngstown," Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce President Tom Humphries said. "We hope those supporting this legislation will now respect the will of the voters and not make yet another attempt that wastes tax dollars that could be wisely used elsewhere."

But FrackFree Mahoning Valley, the group behind the Community Bill of Rights, as the amendment is called, are a small group of activists adamantly opposed to and critical of Ohio's oil and gas industry. The group vowed again to push the amendment for as many times as it takes until the ban is passed.

Even if the amendment were to pass, Youngstown officials have said it would likely be unenforceable because some of the core provisions include an outright fracking ban, language to enforce any activity that violates it or natural resources, and a stipulation that imposes liability on operations in neighboring communities. That language stands in direct opposition to the state law. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has "the sole and exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location and spacing of oil and gas wells," a provision currently being challenged in the Ohio Supreme Court (see Shale DailyDec. 30, 2013).

Community officials opposed to the ballot initiatives have also pointed out that the oil and gas industry currently has little interest in developing acreage in and around the city. Halcon Resources Corp. recently suspended its drilling program just miles outside of Youngstown because of poor results (see Shale Daily,March 5), and BP plc pulled the plug on its program north of the city for similar reasons last month (see Shale Daily,April 29).

A robust supply chain has cropped up in Youngstown to serve the burgeoning shale plays in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, though. In recent years, leading manufacturers such as Vallourec Star, Exterran, Industrial Piping Specialists Inc. and Valerus have set up operations and created jobs in and around the city to make steel pipe, compression equipment and other supplies for the industry. City officials have feared that a charter amendment could discourage such investments in the future and affect unrelated industrial industries.

Last month The Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment, a collaborative of elected officials, business and labor leaders formed to fight FrackFree Mahoning Valley's efforts, noted that the city and county have already spent more than $50,000 in administrative costs related to the group's referendums (see Shale Daily,April 3).

"The Community Bill of Rights would have been a job killer and put Youngstown far behind other cities in attracting new business to the city," said Youngstown Mayor John McNally. "Youngstown is making a comeback and this charter amendment would have stopped that growth."

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