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Youngstown Fracking Opponents Continue Push to Ban Drilling

Continuing with their pledge to ban fracking in Youngstown, a grassroots committee is seeking signatures for a third ballot initiative in May that would once again ask voters to amend the city's charter, while affiliated anti-hydraulic fracturing (fracking) activists will try for the same in nearby Niles, OH.

The Youngstown, Ohio Community Bill of Rights Committee announced late last week that it was heading door-to-door within the city to gather signatures for a ballot referendum in May. The move is the group's third such effort to ban fracking and related activity in Youngstown after voters rejected the measure 57-43% in May, and more recently by 55-45% in November (see Shale Daily, Nov. 6, 2013) .

Led primarily by FrackFree Mahoning Valley -- a loosely knit group unanimously opposed to fracking in Ohio and across the country -- the group has vocally criticized the industry, helping to stage rallies, organize protest events and holding public forums to discuss the dangers of the industry's presence in the state. An affiliated group in nearby Niles, which is about 20 minutes north of the city, will look to ban fracking with a similar ballot initiative. A group there has started to gather signatures as well.

In September, Niles City Council unanimously repealed an ordinance that banned fracking within city limits just two months after having passed it themselves. At the time, the group behind the latest efforts to ban drilling said it would fight to reinstate a similar ordinance at the ballot box.

"We now have a powerful base of almost 5,000 Youngstown voters that could easily sway an election or ballot question," said Susie Beiersdorfer, a spokeswoman for the committee and a leading member of FrackFree Mahoning Valley. "The gap is closing in our favor and we soundly gained ground in November."

Lynn Anderson, a bill of rights committee member, added that "our analysis of the election results is that as Youngstown voters are becoming more fully informed about fracking and local control issues. Voters are turning against fracking and are demanding local control over how they want their community to be, which is the citizens' fundamental right."

The group said a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to restore municipalities’ ability to enforce local zoning ordinances there should help the cause in Youngstown (see Shale Daily, Dec. 20, 2013). The committee also said it believes the decision in Pennsylvania will influence the Ohio Supreme Court as it prepares to hear oral arguments in a similar case that challenges the state's regulatory authority.

In 2012, Youngstown City Council voted in favor of opening city-owned land to oil and gas drilling, which prompted opponents to pursue a ban (see Shale Daily, Oct. 19, 2012). Although operators have not moved into the city to drill, instead working in rural townships nearby, a robust supply chain has cropped up within the city's borders.

Major equipment suppliers such as Vallourec Star, Exterran, Valerus and Industrial Piping Specialists, have all opened or expanded existing facilities in the area to meet growing demand in the Utica and Marcellus Shale formations.

Opponents of a ban worry that the committee's efforts will send the wrong message and discourage further investment in Youngstown, which has seen some economic benefits from the industry.

"We'll be fighting this and opposing it whenever and wherever we can," said Tony Paglia of the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment, a group of nonpartisan business and labor interests formed to fight the ban. "The public in Youngstown generally supports the industry and the economic growth we've seen as a result. It's just a matter of getting out there to educate the public."

Paglia said the jobs coalition has already started to mobilize in an effort to fight the charter amendment, which it did during the previous two attempts.

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