Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel-Tribune Editor
Thursday, 05 September 2013 09:32
Bowling Green City Council was warned Tuesday evening that a city ordinance banning fracking will do little to protect the community. But city officials are standing firmly behind their assertions that a city ordinance would be far better than a charter amendment.
|Lisa Kochheiser (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Neither side wants fracking in the city. But they can't agree on the best way to prevent the process.
Lisa Kochheiser, of the FreshWater Accountability Project, told council that ordinances can be side-stepped.
"Ordinances by themselves just aren't enough to stop oil and gas companies from drilling in communities," Kochheiser said. She talked about the experience of Broadview Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, where she said a city ordinance was passed to ban fracking efforts. Despite the ordinance, 90 vertical wells were drilled and fracked in the city limits, she said.
"It's shocking," she said of the toxic chemicals being used in the process as the companies circumvented the local ordinance.
But since the city passed a charter amendment last fall, she said, no new wells have been drilled in Broadview Heights.
However, Broadview Heights Clerk of Council Helen Dunlap said Wednesday that the city has never had an ordinance banning fracking.
The city had an ordinance in place that required fracking operations to get legal permits to drill. The permits limited the size and depth of the wells.
"So we allowed them," Dunlap explained.
Using that permit process, between 90 and 100 fracking wells were established, she said.
Then, last fall, the city residents passed a charter amendment banning fracking. But that amendment may not spare the city from more drilling, according to Dunlap.
Since the charter amendment has been in place, an energy company requested a permit to drill on a city property that already had two wells. City officials rejected the request. So the company took its request to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which ruled in favor of the gas company, Dunlap said.
The city is now appealing that decision in court.
Bowling Green is facing two options for preventing fracking in the city. Petitions were circulated earlier this year to put a "bill of rights" charter amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot. But last week, Bowling Green Mayor Richard Edwards and City Attorney Michael Marsh pointed out problems with the proposed charter amendment.
Marsh said the terms "hydraulic fracturing" or "fracking" are never used in the charter proposal. The term "frack water" is used once. Edwards expressed concerns about adding policy issues to the charter, which he said now simply outlines how the city operates. He favors a straightforward ordinance specifically prohibiting hydraulic fracturing, that city council gave a second reading to Tuesday evening.
Also at Tuesday's council meeting, citizen Roger Anderson said he had read the proposed charter amendment and found it to be "very vague."
"This is not likely to happen in Bowling Green because of the geology," Anderson said. However, he voiced his support for the city ordinance being considered.
"I think this ordinance is vastly superior to the charter amendment," he said.
But Jennifer Karches defended the proposed charter amendment and questioned the statements made by city officials favoring an ordinance. Specifically, she rejected the prediction that a charter amendment would cause energy rates to go up immediately in Bowling Green. Broadview Heights has seen no such rate increases, she said.
But Marsh explained on Wednesday that Bowling Green's situation is much different than that in Broadview Heights. The proposed charter amendment would make it unlawful for Bowling Green to "engage in the delivery or transportation of fossil fuels," with no exemption for energy derived from coal, he said. Currently, about 63 percent of the electricity to city customers is derived from coal - and deviating from the city's contract will result in higher energy costs, Marsh said.
And unlike Broadview Heights, Bowling Green is in the electric supply and transmission business, since the city operates its own delivery system for electricity.
Karches also asked that Marsh recuse himself from any decisions regarding the charter amendment in his other role on the Wood County Board of Elections. Marsh responded Wednesday by saying that he supports the amendment being on the November ballot.
"That is because I want this thing resolved quickly by the voters, and hopefully defeated soundly, never to be heard from again," he said.
Marsh said a city ordinance would be the best route for the community to ban fracking since it would be part of the city's criminal code.
"The same tact was taken by us several years ago when we were the first city in Ohio to regulate cigarette and cigar smoking in certain facilities," he said. "Our ordinance was challenged, and was upheld as a reasonable exercise of our police power."