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Council: Fracking amendment will protect city water supply

Athens City Council voted to amend an Athens City Code that would prevent hydraulic fracturing inside the city limits, but the “controversial” passing might result in lawsuits down the road.  

During last week’s council committee meeting, two sections were removed from the city’s Wellhead Protection Plan, said Councilwoman Michele Papai, D-3rd Ward.

Council had a week to think it over and decided that the sections needed to be replaced, Papai said.

The two sections will prohibit drilling and mining exploration for petroleum or natural gas and the storage and disposal of wastewater and other byproducts related to drilling and mining.

Councilman Jeffrey Risner, D-2nd Ward, said that Athens is the first city to stand up to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources about fracking. Ohio Revised Code states that ODNR is the only governmental body that can decide where gas and oil drilling is allowed, said City Law Director Pat Lang.

“I think that some parts (of the amendment) are more problematic than others,” Lang said, adding that he is only acting as a legal advisor for the council.  

Though the amendment could result in a lawsuit, Risner said he does not think it will come from ODNR.

“It is more likely a company will take us to court. If I were a company, I want to make money. I wouldn’t want to sink $2 million in a lawsuit. This (amendment) is just another tool we can put in our toolbox,” Risner said.

Councilman Elahu Gosney, D-at large, said he agreed that the amendment could cause legal problems.

“It might be hard to defend in court, but we need to protect our water supply,” Gosney said.

Many members voiced their concerns about the possible effects of fracking on the Athens water supply and said the new amendment will help protect it.

“The amendment is controversial, but we can’t spoil our water supply,” Risner said. “It is all we got.”

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