©2012 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Ellen M. Gillmer

Voters in Mansfield, Ohio, sent a clear message Tuesday that oil and gas wastewater is not welcome in their city.

More than 60 percent voted in favor of an “environmental bill of rights” that would essentially give the city license to ban wastewater injection wells — scattered across the Ohio landscape — on grounds that the operations threaten community rights to clean air and water.

Injection wells are used to store millions of gallons of chemical-laced wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations across the Marcellus and Utica shale plays. Critics worry about water contamination from faulty wells and about earthquakes induced by the blasting of fluid underground. A series of small earthquakes recorded around Youngstown, Ohio, last winter has been linked to injection wells. Two such wells were proposed for Mansfield last year.

Mansfield’s rights-based approach, which is sure to be challenged in court, was headed up by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. The Pennsylvania-based group works with municipalities trying to assert local control over oil and gas drilling.

In Ohio, permitting for wastewater injection wells is handled by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, pre-empting local control. Shawn Bennett, of the industry campaign Energy in Depth, dismissed Mansfield’s bill of rights as “toothless.”

But opponents of the measure were concerned enough to spend thousands of dollars trying to defeat it. According to the Mansfield News Journal, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute and a group of Mansfield residents spent more than $30,000 in the final days before the election, a hefty sum for local politics in that area, on an ad campaign warning of red tape created by the bill of rights.