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Ohio Supreme Court Says State Law Trumps Local Fracking Rules

Ohio's high court recent ruling limits local power over gas drilling.
WCPN

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that cities can’t enforce local laws banning fracking if the state has issued a permit to a driller. 

The court split 4-3, saying Munroe Falls couldn’t block Beck Energy from drilling on a residential property with permission of the owner and a permit from the Department of Natural Resources, with the majority ruling state law bans local communities from passing ordinances specifically aimed at obstructing drilling activities. Before the arguments last February, Munroe Falls mayor Frank Larson said he worried about what will happen in cities around the state if his lost in court. 

“When the state decides that when they have something that they consider a statewide issue the municipality’s home rule is going to be trompled.”

In his dissent, Justice William O’Neill blasted the state law, saying: “What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive.”

Heidi Robertson, an environmental law professor at Cleveland State University says this is a big win for the industry. She says Ohio isn’t the only energy-boom state seeing this power struggle. The high courts of New York and Pennsylvania refereed similar conflicts.

"Communities did better in New York and Pennsylvania," she said.

Munroe Falls said Beck Energy broke local laws when it failed to follow a city review process – including fees and a public hearing – before drilling. Beck argued the local rules were invalid because state law gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources “sole and exclusive authority” over siting oil and gas wells statewide.

The majority of the justices agreed with Beck. Justice Judith French wrote that Ohio law “explicitly reserves for the state, to the exclusion of local governments, the right to regulate all aspects of the location, drilling and operation of oil and gas wells,” and any permitting related to that.

The majority opinion says it doesn’t rule out the idea that some local ordinances might be permissible. But in knocking down Munroe Falls’, it also casts doubt on many others around the state.