Athens City Council made several moves on Monday to further expressing its opposition to oil and gas drilling in sensitive areas, specifically the city's wellhead protection zone and the Wayne National Forest.
In a unanimous vote, City Council passed a resolution making certain amendments to the city's wellhead protection plan, including provisions banning the controversial horizontal hydraulic fracturing drilling technique in that area.
The likelihood of any company starting a "fracking" operation in the city are relatively small, but City Council members decided to include to take a stand anyway.
In any event, Ohio Revised Code relegates all oil and gas drilling and wastewater disposal regulatory authority to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Mineral Resources Management.
The ODNR has said that it does not take municipal law into consideration when deciding whether to grant drilling permits, though it can exercise stricter regulations to protect water and other resources in urban areas.
In council's revisions, the first provision bans "drilling, mining, exploration and extraction operations, including but not limited to, petroleum gas and minerals," while the second bans "the storage and/or disposal of wastewater and other byproducts associated with drilling, mining, exploration and extraction operations."
Athens Law Director Pat Lang has said that as an adviser to the body, he has let members know that the language has the potential to be problematic.
Meanwhile, the body also moved forward with a resolution requesting Wayne National Forest to conduct an environmental impact statement prior to the release of any forest lands to the Bureau of Land Management for oil and gas leasing.
City Council stated that an environmental impact study is the only way that the city's water, air and economy can be assured of protection from potential harmful effects stemming from damage to Wayne lands as a result of drilling.
"The city of Athens calls upon the Wayne National Forest to complete an environmental impact statement process prior to the release of any surface or subsurface rights for oil and gas leasing under its jurisdiction," the resolution states. "The city recognizes that Wayne National Forest is legally obligated under the National Environmental Policy Act to consider regional impacts of significant activities on any and all Wayne National Forrest lands. Furthermore, Wayne National Forest is under legal obligation to consider how leases on its land add cumulatively to total impacts that will be experienced in our region."