Youngstown Citizens Want the Oil and Gas Industry to Frack Off

Photo by Justin Wier/ The Jambar
Photo by Justin Wier/ The Jambar
Photo by Justin Wier/ The Jambar

On Election Day, citizens of Youngstown will be met once again with an opportunity to amend the charter to forbid hydraulic fracturing within the city.

The Youngstown Community Bill of Rights would guarantee city residents a right “to be free from any oil and gas extraction that would violate the right of the residents to pure water, clean air, the peaceful enjoyment of their home or their right to be free of toxic chemical trespass.”

Jean Engle, a member of Frackfree Mahoning Valley, a grassroots group supporting the amendment, said this is the fourth time the amendment has been on the ballot.

“[Support] has steadily increased,” Engle said. “Each election we get better results. That’s why we’re going back to try again.”

The basic principle behind the amendment is that citizens have a right to determine whether or not toxic industries can come into their community.

The group’s position is that fracking is hazardous to human health because the chemicals used in the process inevitably get into the environment and cause lasting damage. Engle said these effects are not well known because research has been limited by exemptions granted to companies that do not require them to disclose the chemicals they are using in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“It’s just a desperate attempt to extract more fossil fuels in an extreme way to keep the fossil fuel thing going. We should be looking at renewables. We have the renewable technology, and we should be using it,” Engle said.

Jeffrey Dick, chair of the department of geological and environmental sciences and director of the Natural Gas and Water Resources Institute at Youngstown State University, said that the risks posed by hydraulic fracturing are not any different than the risks posed by conventional oil drilling.

“The identical risks that we associate with shale gas wells come with traditional wells,” Dick said. “So if you’re going to ban shale wells, you really need to ban all of them, and if you’re going to do that, what are you going to use for an energy source?”

He said he doesn’t think we should be drilling in heavily-populated areas like Youngstown, but this rarely occurs for practical reasons.

“Leasing the land’s almost impossible. It’s not worth the trouble for companies to do it, so you’re not going to see very much of that going on,” Dick said.

There isn’t much drilling currently happening anywhere in northeast Ohio due to lower than expected yields.

“It’s pretty much a dead area for the Utica shale,” Dick said. “They were drilling here early on, but everybody’s abandoned it. There’s nobody drilling up this way at all anymore.”

The amendment also forbids fracking wastewater from being processed or disposed of in the city.

“We feel that Youngstown has been designated a dump for other states’ frack waste,” Engle said. “Our sense of it is, don’t let it happen here. We’re not a dump. We don’t want to be a dump. And it’s time to start looking seriously at renewables.”

Dick said that unlike shale gas wells, disposal wells are common in industrial areas and they can pose human health risks when they are sited in areas with seismic activity.

“There’s some indication that there’s something in the subsurface here that doesn’t do well with injecting fluids into the ground and it triggers earthquakes. So I’ve got a concern about that — a big time concern about it,” Dick said.

A.J. Sumell, an economics professor at YSU, said fracking is a controversial issue because when you look at it from the macro level you see job growth, reduced carbon emission, and a reduction in oil and gas imports. Yet when viewed at the micro level, there are environmental risks that raise concerns.

“Most people don’t want to live next to it, and I wouldn’t want to live next to it,” Sumell said.

Engle is not impressed by the effect fracking has had on employment in Ohio.

“Something like four percent of Ohio jobs are related in any way to the oil and gas industry,” Engle said.

Engle said the group has struggled to obtain support from local politicians.

“We have not gotten any support from city council, from the mayor’s office, anything,” Engle said. “They have opposed us right and left down the road, and I don’t know why given that they are responsible for protecting the citizens of Youngstown.”