Ohio blocked three counties from holding elections that could ban oil and gas or pipeline development, but organizers said they may go to court to get the proposals back on the ballot, and at least one local election could still go forward.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted removed charter proposals from the Nov. 3 election ballots in Athens, Medina and Fulton counties, saying the anti-development sections in the petitions conflict with state law.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in February that cities cannot use their zoning laws to control oil and gas development
“The issue of whether local communities can get around state laws on fracking has already been litigated,” Husted said in a news release Thursday. “Allowing these proposals to proceed will only serve a false promise that wastes taxpayer’s time and money and will eventually end in sending the charters to certain death in the courts.”
Husted said he received complaints about the proposed elections from residents of the three counties and took action under an Ohio law that allows him to determine if a petition is valid.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has pushed for the elections, is investigating its legal options, Tish O’Dell, an organizer for the group, said Friday.
The ballot proposals would create a new governing charter for each of the counties, establishing a “community bill of rights” that includes the right to stop energy development.
The three counties are outside of the Utica Shale field, where most of Ohio’s drilling is happening. Athens County, though, is home to several oil field waste disposal wells. Fulton and Medina counties are in the path of the Nexus pipeline, a 250-mile project that is expected to carry gas from Ohio to Michigan.
The Athens County charter would ban hydraulic fracturing and disposal of fracking waste. The Fulton and Medina county charters would ban “the siting or operation of equipment to support extraction of oil or gas, including pipelines, compressors, or other infrastructure.”
CELDF is backing a similar petition in Meigs County, which is tied up in court after the county commissioners refused to act on it, O’Dell said.
Meanwhile, organizers in Youngstown are pushing for a city charter amendment to ban fracking.
The nonprofit group backed similar campaigns and ordinances around the country, arguing that the natural ecosystem is entitled to legal rights (EnergyWire, Jan. 7).
CELDF has had mixed results in Ohio. Voters in the city of Athens passed a ban on fracking, but Youngstown voters have rejected a ban three times.
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