Fracking Bans Pass in Denton, Texas, Two California Counties and One Ohio Town

With a record number of fracking issues on local ballots in California, Texas and Ohio, the outcome was decidedly mixed. Of the eight measures—three in California, four in Ohio and one in Texas—four passed and four failed. The biggest victory came in Denton in north Texas, located atop the lucrative Barnett shale play. After citizens demanded action from city council on a fracking ban and council punted last July, the issue went to the ballot where it passed last night. “As I have stated numerous times, the democratic process is alive and well in Denton,” said Denton mayor Chris Watts. “Hydraulic fracturing, as determined by our citizens, will be prohibited in the Denton city limits. The city council is committed to defending the ordinance and will exercise the legal remedies that are available to us should the ordinance be challenged.” Denton became the first city in Texas—a state where fracking has become big business—to pass such a ban, despite threats from the oil and gas industry to sue to overturn it. And it passed overwhelmingly, 59-41 percent, despite heavy spending by the industry.   Read the rest...

Disagreement On Legal Authority Complicates Local Fracking Bans

By Daniel Moore / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Last week in eastern Ohio, where natural gas production in the Utica Shale has been booming, voters in three towns rejected ballot proposals to ban hydraulic fracturing. While Athens overwhelmingly passed a fracking ban, Gates Mills, Kent and Youngstown voted down their measures. The ballot issues highlight the disparity in responses among local officials who are befuddled by the complicated legal baggage of prohibiting a practice that some say is solely regulated at a state level. Bans could legally embroil areas where drilling companies operate, especially with the Ohio Supreme Court soon to rule on the ability of local authorities to regulate fracking. Local authority to regulate fracking is a central issue in the case that the Ohio Supreme Court is reviewing: Munroe Falls v. Beck Energy. In 2011, a state court backed the town’s right to zone and issue permits to the oil and gas drilling company. An appellate court in February sided with the company. Oral arguments were heard by the state Supreme Court earlier this year. The Ohio Oil and Gas Association is closely watching for a decision, said spokeswoman Penny Siepel. “Once that court case is decided, I think it will probably help … reaffirm that the state ultimately has control over the oil and gas industry,” Ms. Seipel said. Shawn Bennett, senior vice president of the industry group, said his member companies answer solely to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “These bans are, and will remain, without any teeth,” Mr. Bennett said. “When (companies) submit their permit, that permit will go to the division and the division...

Fracking Corporations Played the Democracy Game – Two Communities Set New Rules this Election

Around the country, communities fighting fracking took their cause to the ballot box in the 2014 cycle — or tried to. But even before voters got a chance to voice their values some were preempted by nefariously oily means.  In Butte County, CA the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) —California’s biggest lobby — found a “formatting error” on residents’ petition (meaning: a few words that should have been in bold face type on the petition). Although Frack-Free Butte County won in court, their ordinance was delayed beyond the election season. For some places, the corporate dollars were too big to beat.  In Santa Barbara California, Chevron, ExxonMobil and other corporate oil interests donated $7 million to drown local efforts, confuse voters and sink endorsements of the defeated Measure P. They were not alone. As Common Cause has reported, Big Oil spent $267 million in the last 15 years on California lobbying and political contributions in Sacramento, the lion’s share of which coincides with fracking’s ugly rise as the short-term future of the fossil fuel industry.  Others made it on to the ballot, only to find millions of dollars being poured into their local elections by Big Oil and Gas lobbies. In Colorado, statehouse officials denied democracy by refusing to let communities vote on fracking. In August, Colorado’s Democratic Governor, John Hickenlooper convinced U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) to pull his support for the citizen initiative process that would have enabled two anti-fracking initiatives on the ballot and ammended the state constitution to give more control over drilling and fracking to local communities. And in the most talked about local victory of the elections, residents of...

Ohio Town, Seeking To Limit Drilling, Is Latest At Odds With State

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is siding with two oil and gas companies in a court case challenging a Cleveland suburb’s ban on oil and gas drilling within city limits. The November 12 motion is the latest step in a series of cases where different branches and levels of Ohio government have faced off against each other. At issue is the extent to which each can limit how and where drilling and related activities take place. The municipality involved in the case, Broadview Heights, is among a handful of Ohio cities that oppose additional oil and gas activities within their boundaries. Earlier this month, Athens became the latest Ohio city to ban new drilling within city limits. ODNR and the gas companies claim local governments have no authority to limit any activities relating to oil and gas. Cities say the statute on which their opponents rely conflicts with the Ohio Constitution. The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to rule any day now in a similar dispute involving the Akron suburb of Munroe Falls. That case involves cities’ zoning authority over drilling.   Read the rest...

Broadview Heights Activists Sue Ohio Gov. John Kasich And State Over Gas, Oil wells

BROADVIEW HEIGHTS, Ohio – A local activist group that opposes oil and gas wells in residential neighborhoods has sued the state of Ohio and Gov. John Kasich in an attempt to stop drilling here. Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhood, based in Broadview Heights, says the city’s Community Bill of Rights – which voters approved in 2012 and which bans future wells – supersedes a state law that allows drilling. The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, says the U.S. and Ohio constitutions guarantee the rights of citizens to govern themselves locally and protect their communities – in this case, from detrimental effects of oil and gas wells. The lawsuit seeks class-action status, which would allow the activists to represent all Broadview Heights residents. It says the group has legal standing to sue because members started the campaign for the Community Bill of Rights and worked hard to pass it on the ballot. Read the rest...

Ohio Regulators Promoting Fracking Not Surprising As Seen From Broadview Heights

I know many citizens of Ohio are shocked by the recent revelation based on a public records request that a state-appointed regulatory agency is actually promoting drilling, and working to “convince” the public that it is safe. But I’m not. Call it “lessons learned on the front lines.” Based on personal experience with drilling in my hometown, I was not surprised when I read this information on the Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s recently exposed, 10-page memo listing allies, threats, and strategies to convince us that drilling in state parks was a good idea. I was not surprised to read notes that revealed the governor’s office, Halliburton, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, local chambers of commerce and media outlets like the Youngstown Vindicator are “allies” and environmental groups are considered “threats.” With 90 wells in a 13-square-mile residential community, residents in my hometown of Broadview Heights learned several years ago that the ODNR was not on our side. We learned that our local officials had their authority stripped from them by a legislature that was bought and paid for with industry lobby money, according to a Common Cause report. We learned that our local safety officials (fire and police) were not notified as to when a well would be fracked or what chemicals would be used. We learned that citizens and even the city, none of whom wanted to sign a lease and were forcibly “pooled” into a drilling unit against their will and wanted to appeal, had to do so before an ODNR panel that was stacked in favor of the industry. So no, this revelation about our state regulatory agency did not have...