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Grassroots: Columbus Could Soon Reclaim Jurisdiction Over Local Oil & Gas Activities

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Grassroots: Columbus Could Soon Reclaim Jurisdiction Over Local Oil & Gas ActivitiesPhoto via Columbus Community Bill of Rights.
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A local grassroots campaign to give Columbusites the “legal teeth” to fight air, water and soil pollution has garnered enough support to get on the November ballot.

Dubbed the Community Bill of Rights, the ordinance would establish local governance over oil and gas activities taking place within the City of Columbus. It’d also enable residents to hold companies liable for oil and gas activities in neighboring municipalities, should they harm the water, air or soil of Columbus.

The Upper Scioto Watershed, Columbus’ main water source, is home to 13 active frack waste injection wells, and an additional four are permitted there.

In the fracking, or hydraulic fracturing process, millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped through pipes deep into the ground (about 2,500 meters) and are then directed horizontally through the shale. The pressure creates perforations and fractures in the shale, releasing the natural gas trapped within. While some of the resulting waste remains underground, much of it comes back up, and it contains both the chemicals used in the process, as well as potentially radioactive materials from the shale.

Many of Columbus’ wells lack holding tanks to contain the waste underground, and currently, the state of Ohio permits companies to dump fracking waste from these wells — and even from other states — in landfills without testing for radioactivity.

The Columbus Community Bill of Rights grassroots group is worried about the threat this potentially highly radioactive waste imposes on Columbus’ soil, air and drinking water.

“No one knows exactly what’s in [the chemicals],” said Bexley resident Carolyn Harding, a member of Columbus Community Bill of Rights. “Those that we do know are carcinogens and disrupters, sex hormone scramblers, neurotoxins.”

Their effort is backed by a national non-profit, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which aims to wrest jurisdiction over oil and gas activities from states to individual municipalities. Cities in Ohio are using the nonprofit’s framework as a way to reclaim jurisdiction on permitting, installation and regulatory enforcement of the state’s wells from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), which has had complete control since the Ohio House and Senate passed House Bill 278 in 2004.

Harding said she expects major pushback from the oil and gas industry, the state, and possibly even the city.

“The industry doesn’t want to lose their freedom to drill and frack wherever they want. The state doesn’t want to lose power over the industry. And the city, unless they feel incredibly threatened and see and know his waste is going to lead back to Columbus, it’s sort of, ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’” she said.

The city ordinance proposed by Columbus Community Bill of Rights would also disallow the road spreading of oil and gas-produced brines within city limits. This practice is already prohibited in other fracking states such as Pennsylvania, whose Department of Environmental Protection was sued by a resident in 2016 after the practice was found to let radioactive materials into surface or groundwater, soil, and even the air.

It’s the third attempt from Columbus Community Bill of Rights to get this issue on the ballot. It started as a charter amendment for the city, but it didn’t find support from City Council. The second time, the group failed to collect enough signatures. This year, the group gathered more than 18,000 signatures, which are currently being validated by the  Board of Elections.

After that, they’ll receive an issue number that’ll appear on the ballot on Tuesday, November 6.

For more information, visit columbusbillofrights.org.

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