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Local activists reaction to passage of Issue 7

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Although the city of Athens banned hydraulic fracturing through the passage of Issue 7 on election day, local activists insist that the ordinance was only a stepping stone to the work that they seek to accomplish.

Dick McGinn, chairman of the Athens Bill of Rights Committee, said that he was encouraged by the measurer’s overwhelming success and, perhaps more importantly, by the city’s response.

“First and foremost is enforcement in Athens,” McGinn said. “…The mayor and law director both said that they took this to be law.”

McGinn did say, however, that there are already problems with distinguishing exactly what the new law encompasses.

“Secondly, there’s bound to be some new legislation that would be required because the ordinance doesn’t cover everything.”

Large tank trucks have been spotted throughout the city without explanation. McGinn and other members of the Bill of Rights Committee are asking questions about their purpose.

“They’re unmarked. We don’t know anything about them. The question is whether our ordinance actually forbids them to come in. And if it doesn’t, it certainly covers the intent. We don’t want fracking waste trucks rolling through town. So that might require new legislation — we don’t know. We’re exploring that,” McGinn said.

Given that neighboring community Coolville is home to Ohio’s largest injection well, McGinn said there is evidence to suggest that energy companies have a plan that calls for using more of Athens County for that purpose.

Because Issue 7 was simply a citywide campaign, the vote has been more or less characterized as insignificant to the larger goal that environmentalists have — to ban fracking entirely.

“We need to work with upstream communities. The ordinance only covers the city limits, and the water does not stay in the city,” McGinn said.

The watershed used by Athenians stretches from Lancaster to Albany, which is host to a lot of farmland and otherwise attractive locations for the oil and gas industry.

“We need county action as well. If you’re going to actually ban fracking and protect the water, then you have to have a lot more than just a city ordinance. But it’s a good start.”

McGinn attributed Issue 7’s success to the demographics of Athens. Being a small, university town without an industrial focus or major pipefitters’ union, those involved with the Bill of Rights Committee campaign did not face any visible opposition from other residents.

That like-mindedness among voters contributed to why Athens was the only city in Ohio that was successful in its attempt to implement a ban out of the four that tried.

“I don’t know a single person who would argue that it’s a good idea to bring fracking waste to this area from out of state,” McGinn said.

Proponents of hydraulic fracturing often emphasize the economic impact it can have on a state like Ohio. For example, according to the American Petroleum Institute, Ohio gained over 200,000 jobs in 2011 because of energy production methods like fracking. The same organization also revealed that the oil and natural gas industry generated $12.7 billion in paychecks statewide that year alone, contributing to 4.1 percent of Ohio’s total labor income.

Still, McGinn insists that the type of jobs required (such as truck driving) means that hiring is seldom conducted locally.

“The fact is that the jobs are very short-lived and they don’t usually come to the local residents.”

Beyond job creation, organizations such as Energy From Shale have touted the benefits that farmers stand to gain from the oil and gas industry. Officials of various Eastern Ohio communities talked about the amount of revenue that has been distributed to towns like Carrollton, in addition to the financial gain to farmers of the region. These accounts are posted on the organization’s YouTube channel.

K&H Partners, an energy company known for running operations in Athens County, was unavailable for comment.

McGinn added that an educational forum will be offered to those who are interested on Dec. 5 and 6 in Albany. A $125 tuition charge will be required to enroll in the forum.

Because activists plan on increasing their efforts, residents can expect to hear more from the Athens Bill of Rights Committee.

“This is just a start. This is a foothold, you know, this is a starting point. It’s nice that the city is behind us. And I think they understand the situation,” McGinn said.

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