Fracking at issue on primary ballot

YOUNGSTOWN – A heated debate over one of the Mahoning Valley’s most controversial issues continues as a twice-failed measure designed to prevent hydraulic fracturing in the city will appear on the primary ballot. Voters will decide a “community bill of rights” charter amendment during the May 6 primary election.

In 2013, similar measures failed in both the May and November elections.

“Last time, almost 5,000 people voted for it,” said Dr. Ray Biersdorfer, a geologist at Youngstown State University. “Since then, hopefully enough has happened that people are wising up to the risks (of fracking).”

During a rally organized by Frackfree Mahoning Valley in downtown Youngstown on Wednesday, Biersdorfer spoke in opposition to continued drilling in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

A recent study linked a series of earthquakes near Lowellville to the site of an oil and gas producing well.

The finding led Ohio to issue a moratorium on fracking within three miles of the seismic activity’s epicenter and to issue new permit conditions viewed as among the nation’s strictest.

“The fact that there are fracking-related and injection well-related earthquakes in Mahoning County is significant,” Biersdorfer said.

“That’s why I support this bill of rights by charter amendment,” Biersdorfer said.

“By giving all of the power of oversight to ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources), local control was taken away from the people.”

Meanwhile, Shawn Bennett, a spokesman for Energy in Depth Ohio, said the measure would only create confusion.

“While the community bill of rights was intended to be anti-oil and gas, it is, in fact, anti-business,” Bennett said. “It is simply a poorly written measure that, if passed, would create more questions than answers.”

According to Bennett, voter opposition to the bill was firmly established in 2013 when the amendment failed by 13.7 percentage points in May and 9.7 percentage points in November.

“The voters have roundly rejected this measure twice before, and with the thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment this industry has brought this community, I don’t see that changing this time around,” Bennett said.

Even if passed, Bennett maintained that ODNR would retain sole and exclusive authority to permit and regulate the oil and gas industry.

“It is unfortunate this group would rather waste taxpayer money than accept the fact that their community supports economic revitalization the oil and gas industry brings,” Bennett said.