The last piece of legislation drafted by Athens City Council in 2011 states that the city will use every tool available to protect its citizens and drinking water from any potential environmental impacts caused by horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
On Monday, Council unanimously passed a one-reading resolution that states while Ohio law gives all oil and gas drilling permitting authority to the state, the city is required by law to protect the health and safety of its citizens from pollution of their water supply.
Horizontal hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is a drilling process that uses millions of gallons of chemical-laced water to extract oil and natural gas from shale deposits. Opponents say the process has contributed to the contamination of drinking water in some cases, the industry says it can be done safely.
“It is the constitutional duty of Athens elected officials to protect the health, safety and welfare of people within its jurisdiction, and air emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds, noxious fumes and particulate matter from industrial burning, industrial equipment operation, storage pond vaporization and excessive truck traffic will jeopardize public health and well-being,” states the resolution.
The resolution says drilling is still subject to the city’s “local exercise of police power, including the Athens zoning code and other applicable regulations, Athens subdivision regulations, EPA-required Wellhead Protection Plan and water quality management requirements.
“The city shall execute and enforce ordinances and regulations within its jurisdiction as necessary to protect its water supply and air supply,” the resolution continues.
“This is serious,” Councilwoman Nancy Bain said. “Of all the things I think I’m most worried about, this is certainly one of them.”
Councilman Kent Butler agreed.
“It’s no small issue,” he said. He noted that hydraulic fracturing has been banned in France and moratoriums have been issued in South Africa and Australia.
Butler urged citizens to ask their federal legislators to support the FRAC Act, or Senate Bill 587, that would repeal the exemption of fracking practices in regard to the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Councilwoman Christine Fahl said she would have liked to have seen Council challenge the Ohio Revised Code and pass an ordinance banning fracking in the city.
“When the state authority butts up against our ability as a council, as a community, to protect the health, welfare and safety of our citizens, then there has to be some kind of looking at the ORC,” Fahl said. “We need to question the ORC.”
Fahl said she views the resolution as a first step and would like to see further resolutions or ordinances pertaining to fracking.
Fahl said citizens need to hold Gov. John Kasich’s feet to the fire about enforcing strong regulations for oil and gas companies.
Mayor Paul Wiehl said that the fracking issue should be a “litmus test” for upcoming county and state-level elections. He said the city is limited in what it can do to prevent fracking, but suggested that Council help educate people and make sure they know what they’re getting into if they agree to sign a lease with an oil or gas company to allow fracking on their property.
Bill Carroll, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, spoke during Monday’s meeting and urged Council to fight “tooth and nail” against fracking.
“I have many parishioners who are very concerned about the impacts of this practice on their livelihood in some cases,” Carroll said. “We are really jeopardizing not only our local water supply, but also the livelihood for many of the people who live here by even considering engaging in this practice.”
He said fracking could have a negative impact on local food farmers, organic farmers and the ecological tourism industry.
According to Carroll, the Diocese of Southern Ohio, which contains about 30,000 people, overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to place a moratorium on fracking until an assessment can be done.
“We need to stop this moving train,” he said.