YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A Youngstown State University geology instructor is calling on city residents to turn out Saturday for a rally and seeking support for a petition urging local control over oil and gas drilling, even as two area congressman call for stepping up exports of liquified natural gas (LNG).
A rally is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown to kick off a day-long effort by Frackfree American National Coalition, based in the city, to collect signatures for its petition seeking to put an issue on the May primary ballot. The issue would ask voters to decide if they want local control over oil and gas drilling to protect their land, air and water.
The coalition has been collecting signatures for a couple of months in advance of the Feb. 6 deadline to qualify for the ballot. To date, more than 2,000 of the required 2,800 signatures have been collected, said Susie Beiersdorfer, a part-time geology professor at YSU and a Frackfree America member.
“This weekend is going to be a big push to let the public know, let Youngstown know that we’d like them to have a choice whether to have the oil and gas industry comes into our area,” she said.
The coalition worked with Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to craft the ballot issue, also known as a “community bill of rights,” Beiersdorfer said. The ballot issue would state that citizens have “inalienable rights that supersede government rights,” including the right to clean air and water, “the right to enjoyment in our homes [and] the right against toxic trespass,” she said.
The ballot issue also is in response to House Bill 278 in 2004, which “took away local control” in areas such as zoning “so the oil and gas industry is able to come in and drill basically wherever they want,” she added.
Beiersdorfer argues that the technology to extract unconventional forms of fossil fuel such as from shale “far outweighs the safety technology,” and notes that “a lot of money” has been pumped into public relations and organizations going to towns and giving presentations about the benefits of shale gas drilling but not the environmental health risks, safety or truck traffic issues. “There’s so many factors that aren’t being addressed,” she said.
Yesterday U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, and Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, issued a joint statement about a letter sent to Energy Secretary Steven Chu calling on him to approve liquified natural gas export permits to non-Free Trade Agreement countries as soon as possible. The letter cites the “positive impact” of exporting that would result in “a net gain for the U.S. economy” without negatively impacting domestic natural gas prices.
Today the congressmen are scheduled to jointly tour BP's new Ohio offices in North Jackson and take questions from reporters.
“Hardworking Ohioans are up to the challenge, and are playing a key role in a true ‘all of the above’ approach to domestic energy development that will put America back to work, lower energy prices, and make America more energy independent,” Johnson said in the prepared statement.
“Natural gas has provided us a great opportunity to provide jobs and continued economic development in northeastern Ohio. Our workers can provide the trucking, construction and other support services needed to take advantage of the state’s abundant gas supply,” Ryan added. “These are the kinds of investments needed to ensure that our energy future is stable -- and our workers find good paying jobs.”
Beiersdorfer questioned the congressmen's bipartisan joint statement. “What happened to the energy independence here at home and using this resource for our own well being?” she asked.
As the debate over oil and gas drilling continues, including concerns over the environmental safety of hydraulic fracturing, a new group is forming on the YSU campus to encourage students to explore all sides of the issue.
Members of the Youngstown Shale Energy Organization met Thursday to organize the group.
“It’s a group on campus to bring in speakers and start talking about what’s going on in the Youngstown area with the drilling and the fracking,” said Sarah Perrine of Medina, vice president of the new group. Perrine has a dual major in environmental studies and professional writing and editing, and recently picked up a minor in natural gas and water resources.
The goal is to provide information to students who many not have information about the issue “and shed some light on it,” she said, and the organization is “completely neutral,” Perrine insisted.
“It’s a huge thing,” she said. While a lot of people believe the industry will bring a lot of jobs to the area and “could be something that makes Youngstown a booming city like it was when steel was here,” she is also concerned the industry isn’t as regulated as it should be, and picked up her new minor with an eye on helping to make it safer.
“Fracking and shale energy is so big in this area and it’s really important to inform everyone what’s happening,” especially students who are starting careers, said the group’s president, Lauren Tadoa of Poland, a geology major.
Copyright 2013 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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