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Columbus Sets Up Legal Fight Over Proposal To Ban Fracking

Allegheny Front

Columbus City Council on Monday gave the green light to a proposed fall ballot initiative that would ban oil and gas drilling within the city. 

The "Columbus Community Bill of Rights," if approved, would would make it illegal for any corporation or government to drill for oil and gas within the city, with the exception of pre-existing wells. Such drilling is almost non-existent in the city, anyways.

The bill would also ban injection wells used to store fracking wastewater.

That would set Columbus in direct conflict with a 2004 Ohio law that says the state has sole jurisdiction over that sort of drilling.

Carolyn Harding, co-organizer of the effort, says they're not worried about a potential legal fight.

"There's a good chance there will be legal issues and legal problems, but we are represented by a non-profit legal organization," she said before the Monday vote.

The state limits were upheld in 2015, when the Ohio Supreme Court determined that the city of Munroe Falls couldn’t make their own rules when it came to oil and gas development. Harding contends that's different, as it was a zoning issue.

Still, she recognizes the road ahead may be tough.

"It's a maverick tactic and way to approach the law," Harding says. "But it's legal. And we are a home rule state, and we are permitted to do citizen-led ballot initiatives and create law."

And Harding says there's precedent: Other municipalities, like Mansfield and Broadview Heights near Cleveland, have enacted similar measures. 

Following Monday's vote, the issue now goes back to the Franklin County Board of Elections, which recently certified the petition signatures needed to get it before Council.

Council on Monday also:

  • Approved an ordinancethat lets more people and groups solicit money in a roadway. The activity previously limited to certified charities like Charity Newsies is now open to any person or group that can legally apply for a permit to hold such a fundraiser once a year. The ordinance carves out an exemption for philanthropic soliciting that would have been banned under a new city panhandling ordinance.
  • Agreed on a one-year, $685,000 contract with ShotSpotter. The company makes technology that records and maps gun fire. ShotSpotter will be used in the Hilltop, Linden, and the South Side as part of the city’s new Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Strategy.
  • Approved tax breaks worth up to $83 million to pharmacy software firm CoverMyMeds, which is building a new corporate campus near downtown.
Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.