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Ohio Supreme Court rules on fracking bans within city limits

By Cassie Kelly, Editor-in-Chief

The Ohio Supreme Court ruling in Munroe Falls v. Beck Energy Corporation has sent ripples through the state this week. The 4-3 decision said the city of Munroe Falls — and, by extension, any local government — does not have the authority to regulate or ban hydraulic fracturing operations in their area.

In 2011, Munroe Falls appealed to the Summit County Common Pleas Court to stop Beck Energy from drilling within their city’s limits and won. However, the Ohio 9th District Court of Appeals overturned the ruling after Beck Energy challenged the original decision, and the case was then brought to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Ohio Supreme Court’s majority opinion, announced on Feb. 17, stated that the Home Rule Amendment to the Ohio Constitution “does not allow a municipality to discriminate against, unfairly impede, or obstruct oil and gas activities and production operations that the state has permitted.”

The Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court
The Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court. Photo linked to supremecourt.ohio.gov

Justice Judith French wrote in the majority opinion that “the state and local governments should work together, with the state controlling the details of well construction and operations and the municipalities designating which land within their borders is available for those activities.”

Five cities in Ohio, including Athens, Broadview Heights, Oberlin, Mansfield and Yellow Springs, have passed a Bill of Rights to ban fracking within their city limits. Athens passed a ban in November 2014.

Dick McGinn, Chairman of the Athens Bill of Rights Committee, sees the ruling as a setback for the state.

“This has made a lot of people upset, and there’s going to be a real backlash on the industry,” McGinn said.

Broadview Heights resident and president of the Ohio Community Rights Network, Tish O’Dell, stated in a press release, “It is the people, and only the people, who are directly impacted, who have the fundamental authority to decide what happens in their own communities.”

Both McGinn and O’Dell agree that this is not a matter of zoning laws for their communities; it is a matter of inalienable rights.

“Nowhere in this decision do the majority of justices acknowledge the peoples’ inalienable rights to local self-government, and the right to protect their health, safety and happiness,” stated O’Dell.

These communities are looking to the dissenting opinions, such as that of Justice William O’Neill, as positive reinforcement.

“The Ohio General Assembly has created a zookeeper to feed the elephant in the living room,” O’Neill stated. “The oil and gas industry has gotten its way, and local control of drilling-location decisions has been unceremoniously taken away from the citizens of Ohio.”

McGinn said he is unsure of what this ruling will mean for Athens and the other communities that banned fracking. But if a drilling permit arises in Athens, he believes the city will defend itself.

“If the industry wishes to drill in Athens, it will be forced to argue in court that the industry’s right to make a profit trumps the citizens’ rights to clean air and water,” he said.

 


Cassie is quite the busy bee. She is a junior in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and has plans to get the environmental studies certificate, before she graduates. She is the Vice President of the Society of Professional Journalists, works two jobs on campus and is a full time student…

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