Stow asks state legislature for local control over drilling

City Council passes resolution opposing lack of home rule

By Jeremy Nobile | Stow Sentry Published:

Elyse Hirsch said it was between 2010 and 2011 when she began to understand how oil and gas drilling processes worked and the dangers often associated with the industry.

Hirsch was a student at Kent State University's Stark Campus at the time, where she helped establish the campus' anti-fracking group called Take Action, Spread Knowledge, or TASK.

While conducting her own research, Hirsch said she grew increasingly concerned with the variety of perceived and documented hazards affiliated with the oil and gas industry.

"There's just so many red flags with it," said Hirsch, a Stow resident and Hudson native. "You hear about water contamination cases, a lack of mineral rights ... environmental issues and the lack of local control. It was things like that that really started to trouble me."

Through TASK, Hirsch, an environmental activist who opposes the harvesting of oil and gas, used information and research she helped collect to educate others on the dangers of oil and gas drilling.

"What we're learning is, as more and more health studies come out, it's bad news," she said.

While no longer a member of TASK, Hirsch continues her mission today, where her efforts brought her before Stow officials.

Partly because of concerns of activists like Hirsch, Stow City Council approved legislation recently urging the state legislature and Gov. John Kasich to consider returning local control over gas and oil drilling procedures -- an industry regulated entirely by Ohio Department of Natural Resources per state law -- to Ohio's municipalities.

Hirsch and local officials like city law director Brian Reali and Councilman John Pribonic believe returning local control to the cities is essential to protecting residents.

For Stow, frustrations with the lack of local control can be traced back most recently to a gas well installed by Pursie E. Pipes Drilling Co. off S.R. 91 on property owned by the Church of New Hope at 4415 Darrow Road.

The city opposed a well going in that area, which is flanked by residential neighborhoods and a daycare facility.

The driller originally tried to lease mineral rights thought to belong to the city that were required before drilling could commence. The city refused, but the company later discovered those mineral rights belonged to residents, negating the need for a lease from the city and requiring leases only from surrounding property owners.

Council was informed via the law department in late 2012 that the driller had all leases and permits it needed to operate, and the well was completed.

Pribonic said the consensus among Council was if the city had home rule and the option to refuse to allow the company to operate, that well would've never been drilled.

"Theres a proper place for everything, and when you look at this, you're abutting to a neighborhood. You can look at a map and say, 'All right, I think this will work here.' But until you got out and actually look at something, that's when you know this is going to be a problem," said Pribonic. "It was a learning experience for all of us on City Council because that's when we found out that our hands were tied."

Pribonic said the worst part was telling residents who urged Council to stop the well from being drilled there was nothing that could be done.

"It's a frustrating experience to where you're telling people, 'I know what you're talking about, but I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do,'" he added.

PEP Landman Bill Marks did not respond to a request for new comments Feb. 28. However, Marks told the Sentry in November 2012 that he asserts the Darrow Road well was drilled properly and is safe.

Hirsch said she'd like to see the entire country move away from the harvesting of gas and oil all together, but acknowledges that's no easy paradigm shift.

Pribonic said he believes drilling is better suited for some areas over others. The Church of New Hope well, though, he is against because of its location in a densely populated area and the environmental and safety risks tied to drilling processes.

"It's been said that drilling is safe, but I say something this close is not safe," he said.

By sending a resolution to the state -- a measure some Ohio cities have already done -- Pribonic and Hirsch hope other municipalities will follow suit and help get the message to state representatives that cities like Stow want control of drilling in their territory.

"This is our city, and we should have the ability to have that control," Pribonic said.

"If (drilling requests) go to planning and zoning, codes are in place people are made to comply with. That would give people a chance to share their perspectives too. Right now, we have no say," said Hirsch. "As a city, if we can decide we don't want drilling in any residential neighborhoods, we could make that decision as a city instead of just having the state say, 'Here it is, deal with it.'"

Pribonic and Hirsch said they want other cities that desire a return to local control to voice their opinions as well.

"Some people might look at this resolution and think that on paper, it amounts to nothing. But until the voices are heard from each individual city and it gets passed on to the state of Ohio that we want home rule, nothing will happen," said Pribonic. "I think that's how government should work."

"It all goes back to the voice of people," he added, "and they're telling us that's what they want."

Email: jnobile@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400, ext. 4179

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.