Last week’s Election Day in Ohio produced victories for fracing supporters and opponents alike. Proposed hydraulic fracturing bans were on the ballot in four different municipal contests. Voters in one city, Athens, approved a ban, while similar legislation was rebuffed in three other municipalities. Looming in the background of these referenda, however, is the Ohio Supreme Court’s anticipated decision in Monroe Falls v. Beck Energy Corporation, which could determine the extent of localities’ authority to regulate fracing activities.
The ban in Athens, a city in the southeastern part of the state, passed in resounding fashion with 78% of the vote. There, voters endorsed legislation that prohibits fracing as well as the transportation of wastewater from any such operations. Although no oil or gas drilling currently occurs within the city’s borders, proponents of the ban say the measure is necessary to protect Athens’s drinking water. City councilman Jeffrey Risner voiced this sentiment: “We’re very cognizant of the fact that if fracking fluids got in there, we could not get them out.”
Less than 200 miles north of Athens, however, Election Day played out quite differently. In the northeastern city of Youngstown, 58% of voters rejected an amendment to the city charter that would have prohibited fracking within the municipality. The vote represents the fourth time in two years that the city’s citizens have spurned such a ban. Prior to the referendum, Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally predicted the ban would not pass, asserting “I don’t see widespread concerns that anything related to shale drilling is a threat to our community.” Similar municipal fracking bans were also rejected by voters in the city of Kent and the village of Gates Mills.
But the enforceability of the Athens ban may ultimately hinge on the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Monroe Falls. At issue in that case is whether state-issued drilling permits preempt municipal zoning ordinances that regulate fracing-related activities. The Athens ban could ultimately prove ineffective if the court decides that local ordinances must yield to state permits. The court heard oral arguments in February, and a decision is expected in the near future.