Ohio court strikes down local fracking bans

Towns and cities in Ohio cannot regulate hydraulic fracturing on their own, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The court ruled 4-3 that Ohio’s legislature gave state agencies exclusive authority over all aspects of oil and natural gas drilling, including fracking, in a 2004 law, and any local ordinances would violate that exclusivity.

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“We have consistently held that a municipal-licensing ordinance conflicts with a state-licensing scheme if the local ordinance restricts an activity which a state license permits,” Justice Judith French wrote in the majority opinion.

The remaining judges said Ohio’s “home rule” provision in its constitution gives municipalities great leeway in writing ordinances.

“There is no need for the state to act as the thousand-pound gorilla, gobbling up exclusive authority over the oil and gas industry, leaving not even a banana peel of home rule for municipalities,” Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote.

The case started with the northeast Ohio city of Munroe Falls, which tried to block a drilling permit in 2011 based on a local law.

But as fracking has grown in recent years, other Ohio cities, like Athens, Oberlin and Mansfield have passed similar ordinances that now cannot be enforced.

Monday’s decision came as environmentalists and other supporters of local fracking bans have gotten mixed results in the efforts to empower cities and towns to block the controversial practice.

In July, New York’s highest court ruled that local governments can outlaw fracking, and a 2013 decision in Pennsylvania said towns can regulate it but not outright ban it.

Towns in Texas and California banned fracking in last year’s election, but Texas officials have refused to allow it to be enforced.