A proposed zoning amendment to restrict the drilling of oil and gas wells in the city to M-2 industrial zones and ban the wells within 500 feet of a structure is back in Salem City Council's lap.
The city Planning Commission approved the addition of the rules to the city zoning code, voting to return the legislation to city council, which can have discussion on the matter after two more readings.
City council already had a first reading on July 8 and had to wait 30 days to have the issue go before the Planning Commission, which must give its approval or disapproval for any proposed change to zoning.
Under the heading Oil and Gas Extraction, the section to be added to the zoning ordinance says "In accordance with the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS), NAICS 2111 Oil and Gas Extraction, a vertical bore well or a fracking horizontal bore well shall be considered an industrial activity and the well site shall be restricted to M-2 Industrial Zoning Districts and shall not be conducted within 500 feet of any existing building or structure."
By law, the state of Ohio retains sole control over the permitting of oil and gas wells in the state, which members of the Planning Commission acknowledged even before being told they had no say by Caitlin Johnson, an organizer with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative.
Johnson, who said she's been working in the area of fracking the past two and a half years, referred to state legislation passed in 2004 which took authority away from municipalities regarding oil and gas wells and gave it all to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
"Your zoning power is out the window," she said regarding the attempt to impose further restrictions on drilling in the city.
Johnson said the only area the city can control is whether to enter into a mineral rights lease for city-owned land. She questioned whether the city owned any of the land or mineral rights in the M-2 zones, which would include the industrial park.
According to Berlin, the city owns some of the mineral rights, but he also noted that the lease agreement the city signed with Chesapeake covered only city-owned land outside of the city limits. None of it would be in an M-2 zone since none of its in the
city limits. The majority of the M-2 heavy industrial zone is located near the railroad tracks on the west side and southwest side of the city and includes some areas with residential homes.
Johnson spoke after a couple of residents spoke out against the idea of drilling inside the city limits, saying she thought the point they were trying to make is that they don't want the city signing any leases for city-owned property in M-2 zones.
Mayor John Berlin, who is a member of the Planning Commission, told her she was saying the city has no control over where oil and gas companies drill. He said what they're trying to say to the oil and gas companies is that if they're going to drill in the city, which none have to date, then the city asks that they only do it in industrial zones.
"We're hoping we can redirect their thinking...we still have a voice," he said.
Johnson said if that's the idea behind the ordinance, then that's a good thing.
The Ohio Organizing Collaborative will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 14 at Salem Public Library regarding fracking with some experts on hand, including Ted Auch from fractracker.org and a woman from Trumbull County who will speak about her experience with having a well near her home.
"We just want to make sure all information is provided to citizens," Johnson said.
Diane Bates, a Salem resident who lives on Prospect Street, said after shale is fracked, no one can promise the material will be contained. She told a story about when she was young, she and a friend were walking near the railroad tracks in the area where Nease was located and they saw what she described as "neon green mud." They waded in it and she doesn't know if the mirex has anything to do with some of the medical problems she has now or not.
"We don't know what effect this is going to have on the natural resources," she said about the drilling and fracking.
Planning Commission Chairman John Panezott explained that the ordinance was a protection, so drilling can't come within 500 feet of a home and can't come into a residential area. He described the legislation as a safeguard and stressed that where drilling occurs isn't up to the commission. Their job is to act on the ordinance so it can go back to council to be debated.
"We're just trying to make an attempt to protect residents," commission member Kathy Gano said.
Bates talked about the noise that could occur and specifically mentioned a senior facility not far from the industrial park.
"You know how Salem wants to beautify and keep our city quaint? That's not quaint," she said.
Keith McDonald, a resident who built a home on Cedar Ridge Drive, questioned the purpose of what was being done and whether it was to make more money for the city of Salem. He said he didn't care where a well was put, it would affect everyone in the city, referring to what happened a few years ago when one gas well blew up near Hanoverton.
Panezott said they understood how everyone feels about fracking, but what they're trying to do is protect them.
"We can't stop it, but we can try to control it. The state has the ultimate say," Gano said.