NORTH ROYALTON, Ohio — Residents who oppose gas and oil drilling in backyards and near baseball fields should push their cities to create bills of rights, a community advocate said Tuesday.
About two dozen people attended the drilling forum hosted by the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Democratic Club at the North Royalton Public Library. Many participants are frustrated by recent court decisions that give the state the “sole and exclusive authority” to permit, locate, space and regulate oil and gas wells.
“Our problem is not only has federal law failed to protect the environment, but the current structure of law prevents the communities most affected by the environmental destruction from adopting any local law to protect themselves,” said Tish O’Dell, who leads Mothers Against Drilling in our Neighborhoods. “So they stripped us, saying we can’t do anything about it.”
Oil and gas companies now have freedom to drill new wells in Broadview Heights after a Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas judge last month overturned voter-approved ban. Judge Michael K. Astrab ruled state law trumped the city’s 2012 block on new wells.
Astrab also referred to a February Ohio Supreme Court decision against the city of Munroe Falls, which in 2011 sued Beck Energy Corp, a Ravenna driller. The city had tried to enforce its drilling regulations with Beck, but the firm said it only had to follow state rules, and the Supreme Court agreed in a 4-3 vote.
One representative from a drilling company attended the forum, but the majority of attendees want to work to find a way to keep the wells out.
Though Broadview Heights’ bill of rights has proved fruitless in court and Gates Mills voters rejected such a bill in November, O’Dell believes if enough communities have them, the state will have to reconsider its authority.
“We just need to keep proving that these harms exist,” Broadview Heights resident Christa Kriska. “They can’t in all honesty give these permits.”
Said 66-year-old North Royalton resident Steve Gove: “It’s not when. It will.”
Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhoods filed a lawsuit in December in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court that claims 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.