“Let’s be clear here. The Ohio General Assembly has created a zookeeper to feed the elephant in the living room. What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive. The oil and gas industry has gotten its way, and local control of drilling-location decisions has been unceremoniously taken away. … Under this ruling, a drilling permit could be granted in the exquisite residential neighborhoods of Upper Arlington, Shaker Heights, or the Village of Indian Hill — local zoning dating back to 1920 be damned.” — Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill, Feb. 17, 2015.
The dissent in last week’s Ohio Supreme Court decision was as telling as the majority opinion. In a 4-3 vote, justices ruled in favor of state legitimacy, granting Ohio regulatory powers over the oil and gas industry and stripping municipalities of long-held “home rule” governance.
Thing is, Ohio now resides along the central nerve of the wealthiest industry in the world, and there is money to be made. With judicial approval, rampant state-sanctioned drilling will continue apace, and even with science and sob stories on their side, noisy grassroots activists aren’t likely to nudge or sway their elected officials. The foolhardy Davids are beginning to comprehend the shape and monolithic size of this Goliath.
“We’ve been trying to say that all along,” Tish O’Dell says from Broadview Heights, applauding O’Neill’s dissenting opinion. She’s the president of the Ohio Community Rights Network, which assisted in authoring a Community Bill of Rights for her city’s residents and their opposition to the health hazards posed by fracking. Other communities have taken similar steps to have their voices heard. And others still, like Munroe Falls, the complainant in the recent Ohio Supreme Court case, have passed zoning resolutions to prohibit fracking within city limits. Those zoning resolutions mean bupkis now.
“This isn’t about fracking though,” Munroe Falls Mayor Frank Larson says two days after the decision. “This is about home rule. And I think people are beginning to realize that this is a lot farther reaching than oil and gas well issues. But I’ll tell you, residents are concerned about the safety of their drinking water, and obviously the ODNR [Ohio Department of Natural Resources] and the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] aren’t.”
Larson is referencing another peculiar aspect of Ohio’s relationship with Big Oil and Gas: Beyond laying out and then vacuuming the red carpet, our very own state agency dedicated to natural resources has become, in a literal way, the public relations arm of the industry. It’s helping to implement and expedite (and, more dangerously, to promote) the very activities which have residents across the state up in arms.
We’ve glanced through community newspapers and seen the frustration, confusion and widespread opposition to this industry, one which, despite assurances to the contrary, hasn’t made good on promises made in the past. With no end in sight, we sought out reasons why in Ohio, this time around, things might be different; why in Ohio, the jobs will stay and the economy will prosper and the environment will thrive without blemish or smirch.
Here, in what is conceived as the first in an ongoing exploratory series, we present a guiding look at what the heralding of hydraulic fracturing means for all of us and what Goliath is planning for our state.
“I remember back in ’05, there was an administrative appeal because the state legislature had rewritten the bill with permitting issues,” Larson says. “And Justice O’Neill during oral arguments asked the lawyer for the oil and gas people, ‘So what, are you guys God?’ And as I remember it, their response was, ‘Uh, yeah.'”