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’s Shale Daily 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.

“We’re leading the fight, and that’s the stage we’re at right now,” Prosek said Tuesday. “Some other [organizations] are working on stronger things, but the move now is to get a great number of local governments to work on nonbinding resolutions. 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’s Shale Daily his community, located in Stark County, has been urged in the past by NEOGAP, other groups and individual citizens to pass similar nonbinding resolutions.

“They are working alongside a handful of residents that attend our meetings regularly, who we call anti-fracking folks,” Giavasis said Tuesday. “But we haven’t had a whole lot of involvement recently.”

Giavasis said Plain Township passed nonbinding resolutions in 2010 and 2011, urging the state to restore home rule for oil and gas drilling. So when he was contacted by NEOGAP about two weeks ago to support yet another nonbinding resolution, he 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. But right now the ODNR [Ohio Department of Natural Resources] is the sole decider of where, when and if it’s going to take place in any individual community.”

Giavasis said a third resolution — a binding one that bans fracking under property owned by the township, including its roads — was passed by Plain Township in July 2011.

Prosek said the group Ohioans for Health, Environment and Justice (OHEJ) 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.

“We’re aware that a number of citizens are concerned about local control and have taken action,” Jack Shaner, public affairs director with the Ohio Environmental Council, told NGI’s Shale Daily on Tuesday. “We would support that effort. We had strongly opposed the legislature passing [HB 278] to repeal permitting authority by local jurisdictions. We believe local communities should retain that authority.”

Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the key lobbyist behind HB 278’s passage, told NGI’s Shale Daily 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 Tuesday. “No matter where you turned or where you went, there would be a patchwork of oil and gas regulatory policy, none of which would be based upon solid regulatory judgment or any sense of the evolution of regulatory policy.”

Stewart said local officials such as trustees and mayors “are very good at what they do, making their little towns run fine. But none of them have any expertise in oil and gas policy or know what to do when it comes to a highly technical subject such as the proper regulation of oil and gas, particularly within the context of the major issues being debated today in the United States regarding oil and gas development.

“Since they do not have sound judgment, sound training or the expertise, they would create regulations that are designed more just to stop oil and gas development than to properly protect health, safety and the environment. What they’re really doing is denying their citizens within their jurisdictions access to their mineral and correlative rights.”

Stewart also said he was skeptical that the Ohio General Assembly would ever restore home rule for oil and gas.

“The argument we made in [lobbying for passage of] HB 278 was that you can zone a pizza store that you don’t want,” Stewart said. “You can move the pizza store two miles down the road and it would probably be just fine. But you can’t move somebody’s correlative and mineral rights two miles down the road because it’s no longer on their property. You can’t zone for something that was put there by nature hundreds of millions of years ago.”

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 (see Shale Daily, Jan 10). The bill, which passed the Assembly in 2011 but died in the Senate, was referred to the state Joint Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation on May 16.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he supports home rule legislation as a way for fracking to be permitted in supportive communities (see Shale Daily, July 11).

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 Shale Daily, Feb. 15). Seven localities filed suit against the law, and an appellate court ruled in their favor in late July (see Shale Daily, July 27). Pennsylvania subsequently appealed the decision to the state supreme court (see Shale Daily, Aug. 1).