A group of Athens citizens is looking to expand its efforts to ban horizontal hydraulic fracturing to surrounding communities, they announced in a press release Friday.
The Athens-based Bill of Rights Committee (BORC) said in the release that they will contact surrounding municipalities, such as Logan, Nelsonville, Albany and Lancaster, and urge these communities to ban so-called fracking for oil and gas.
"All (of these communities) share fresh water resources from the aquifer and from the Hocking River and/or Margaret Creek watershed," the release said.
The committee said it plans to place an initiative on the November ballot that would ban fracking and disposal of fracking wastes in the Athens jurisdiction, on the grounds that by endangering the aquifer, the process will violate citizens' civil rights to a clean and safe environment.
The BORC is currently developing the language of the draft ordinance, and is seeking support from Athens City Council and community members alike.
They approached City Council in early December about the matter.
The committee at that time included resident Dick McGinn, Second Ward Council member Jeff Risner, and residents Christine Hughes, Beverly Flanigan, Ed Newman, Milena Miller, John Howell and Richard Hogan.
In the release, the BORC noted that Athens City Council passed a resolution to protect the wellheads in Athens in 2011, but has since faced obstacles such as the fact that Ohio Revised Code puts oil and gas regulation under the jurisdiction of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and prohibits any other governmental subdivision from regulating drilling or waste disposal.
"There's so much overwhelming evidence that this activity is extremely fraught with risks for the health and safety of citizens that we have decided that we're going to work as hard as we can, and for as long as it takes to prevent this from happening anywhere in Athens or in our watershed," BORC organizer McGinn was quoted in the release as telling WOUB last week.
McGinn said the BORC plans to contact members of neighboring communities to develop similar ordinances for the November ballot.
At the City Council meeting, McGinn said that the legal strategy behind the proposal is that it's not challenging the state law designating ODNR as the sole regulatory authority, but rather appealing to a higher authority than the ORC in the state constitution.
In that sense, he said, it's not as vulnerable to lawsuits. He said the Ohio Constitution gives priority to human beings and their rights.
McGinn likewise expressed confidence of winning the public debate. "We know we will win when it comes to a ballot decision," he said.
Defenders of deep-shale drilling argue that the practice is environmentally benign, that the state of Ohio strictly regulates it, and that its economic benefits for communities and the state as a whole far outweigh any likely problems. They have charged that opponents are exaggerating or fabricating the potential dangers of fracking.