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Youngstown Ballot Measure Creates Community Bill of Rights, Prohibits Fracking

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On Tuesday, Youngstown residents will vote on a city charter amendment that prohibits fracking—the process used to extract oil and gas. Supporters of the measure say they want to protect the environment, but critics argue it could discourage much needed business investments in the city. ideastream’s Michelle Kanu has this story about another community fighting for more control over oil and gas drilling.

Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 6:39 pm

More than 30 cities, townships and villages around Ohio have passed some type of resolution or outright ban against oil and gas drilling.

But unlike many of those measures, the charter amendment on the ballot in Youngstown is framed as a community bill of rights. It states that people have the right to things like clean water and clean air, and it prohibits activities like fracking that they argue threatens those rights.

Jim Callen is an attorney with Northeast Ohio legal services and represents the group that put the issue on the ballot.

Callan says they’re taking this approach because existing regulations don’t go far enough in protecting the environment from the risks of oil and gas drilling.

Callen: “Citizens in Youngstown have witnessed a number of the direct effects of this. They’ve felt the earthquakes that have taken place from the injection wells. They’ve seen the toxic waste being dumped into the Mahoning River.”

State law gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources sole authority to regulate oil and gas drilling, so there’s a big question as to whether the amendment can be enforced.

Still, critics say if the measure passes, it could impact other industrial activities in Youngstown.

Wenger: “It’s way over broad, and it’s terribly written.”

Alan Wenger is an attorney with Harrington, Hoppe and Mitchell, who’s helped thousands of area landowners negotiate leases with drilling companies.

Wenger says the amendment’s ambiguous language could penalize many of the manufacturers in Youngstown that use chemicals, energy, and water.

Wenger: “it would send a message to anyone, not just with oil and gas, but anyone thinking of investing in any sort of industrial or manufacturing process that you would be crazy to do so in or around the city of Youngstown.”

But Jim Callen says that’s not the intention of the amendment. He says if the measure passes, it adds to the ground swelling of communities that are pushing for more local control over oil and gas drilling.

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