Alan Wenger: In 2004 Ohio like many other states established state-wide uniform laws and regulations governing utilities and services needed all across the state that preempted local government organizations (including home rule cities and townships) that might desire to establish local conflicting laws. State preemption addresses “NIMBY” (Not in My Back Yard) laws that would make it impossible to have efficient development of resources, distribution of electricity, cell service, telephone service, natural gas, and many other similar public needs. Preemption laws vary from state to state. Ohio’s laws are clear: A city cannot pass laws that would preempt state laws and regulations concerning oil and gas development.
Wenger: The proponents of the Youngstown Charter Amendment were guided by a national non-profit group headquartered in Pennsylvania, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (www.celd.org/). The CELD and its local adherents who circulated petitions to get this issue on the ballot see Youngstown as just another battle ground in their war against fossil fuels and “corporations.”
Wenger: The CELD supplied the boilerplate “Community Bill of Rights” language and methods for getting sufficient petition signatures, asking residents if they would support an initiative to promote a “Community Bill of Rights to have clean air and water.”
Wenger: Who would not sign on to that proposition, particularly without first reading the fine print?
Wenger: In fact the CELD, as reflected on its website, is a strident, partisan advocacy group challenging centralized government regulation of utilities and energy resourcesi and instead favors strictly individual rights and controls.
Wenger: Its mission is not based upon political or physical sciences, engineering, best means of governance and planning theory, but rather on pure political populism. It favors a sweeping “power to the individual” approach, and doesn’t appear to worry much about the havoc its approach would create upon public services, safety, health, and welfare. It is blatantly “anticorporation,” but fails to provide any viable alternatives for addressing the vast needs for energy, utilities, goods and services that are particularly critical to urban populations.
Wenger: The CELD is pushing an “end run” around Ohio’s established system of laws, as well as the Ohio and US constitutions, by promoting this ballot initiative in Youngstown, even when at least some of what it is pushing is clearly not enforceable.
Wenger: This organization is playing games with Youngstown’s future, though it has little stake in the outcome or responsibility for the harm it could create.
Wenger: Yes, but not under similar facts or with such critical risk to the citizens involved.
Ohio [examples]. Wenger: The same promoters of this amendment have gotten laws passed in a couple of Ohio cities (like Yellow Springs and Mansfield) where there is virtually no oil and gas activity in comparison to what has been occurring in Youngstown.
[continuing] Wenger: There has been no review by Ohio courts of this sort of charter amendment or ordinance, though Ohio courts have just again clearly upheld the constitutionality of state laws preempting local city laws regarding oil and gas. It would seem that at least
some major portions of the proposed amendment (those banning oil and gas activities) would be unenforceable, or illegal.
Pittsburgh [example]. Wenger: Proponents often mention that the same law was passed in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh did pass a law regarding certain oil and gas development, but it was significantly less strident and overreaching compared to Youngstown’s proposed amendment.
Wenger: But, far more important, Pennsylvania does not have the state preemption laws Ohio has regarding oil and gas development. Therefore, the Pittsburgh law should not be compared to what is being pushed on Youngstown
Wenger: 1. Due to of geology and geography, northeast Ohio has become a focus for Utica shale oil and gas development. V&M Star has invested over $1 billion in upgrading and adapting facilities, with active involvement of the City of Youngstown, in order to manufacture products for the Utica shale industry, as has Exterran, creating thousands of jobs. Other Youngstown city and area industries have benefited greatly from the new oil and gas opportunities, as have the residents and taxpayers and city government, from the influx of jobs and opportunities. The obvious intention of this amendment is to halt that opportunity, waste benefits to the city, and drive the development to other communities (where it would be welcomed with open arms).
[continuing] Wenger: 2. The City of Youngstown and surrounding communities (particularly west into the Meander Reservoir Watershed area) have for decades and generations been very active with oil and gas drilling. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website interactive maps, there appear to be around 100 permitted oil and gas wells within the limits of the City of Youngstown, and many hundreds more directly to the west of the City of Youngstown (in the Meander Reservoir area). It is highly likely that any of those wells involved in production of oil and gas over the decades has been “fracked,” and many multiple times. Each of the producing wells generates brine that is transported and disposed of. Each well generates oil and gas that needs to be transported. Some of those wells were drilled into shale layers, utilizing drilling technology available at the time. The “fractivists” promoting the charter amendment apparently had no problem with this massive oil and gas development in the City of Youngstown and its surroundings until now.
[continuing] Wenger: The proposed charter amendment would literally make those who own or operate the wells, transport the oil and gas and brine, or in any way facilitate those wells into law breakers and criminals. According to ODNR website information, many of these wells are owned by local Youngstown churches, schools, and non-profit charities.
3. It is unlikely regardless of the charter amendment that there would be much ‘unconventional” large scale horizontal shale oil and gas drilling activity within the City of Youngstown. The multiple-well drilling pads and related activities involved are located away from urban areas or residential concentrations. Most shale gas development, particularly surface activities, would be impossible in Youngstown due to regulations already in place in Ohio. The amendment would likely make very little difference as to actual drilling activity within the city. But, it would make a huge difference in terms of
economic opportunities to the city, and the image that would be portrayed to the nation and the world with Youngstown, a major city in northeast Ohio, refusing to allow, and even criminalizing shale gas development.