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"People are waking up to the risks," said fracking ban supporter Susie Beiersdorfer. (Photo: Light Brigading/flickr/cc)

Forging a 'Different Path,' Communities Take Fracking Fight to the Ballot

Communities are demanding rights for public, environmental health with fracking ban initiatives

Andrea Germanos

Environmental groups and concerned community members have taken to the streets in their fight to stop fracking—an extraction process they say threatens environmental and public health.

But the issue has made its way to the ballot as well; in communities in California, Ohio and Texas, voters have a chance to enact fracking bans on November 4.

"People are waking up to the risks," Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of the bill of rights committee in Youngstown, Ohio and member of Frackfree Mahoning Valley, told Common Dreams.

If enacted, the Community Bill of Rights, Issue 4 on Youngstown's ballot, would prohibit unconventional oil and gas extraction methods including fracking.

Hundreds of small earthquakes in the state have been linked to fracking—so it may be no surprise that Youngstown is just one of a handful of communities in Ohio with fracking bans on the ballot this November.

Athens, Gates Mills and Kent join Youngstown with similar ballot measures. That makes a record number of municipalities in Ohio trying to enact Community Bills of Rights initiatives, says the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which drafted the measures.

"For too long, the State of Ohio and the oil and gas industry have worked hand-in-hand to strip communities of their right to protect themselves and the environment. Ohio communities are no longer willing to accept a legal system which forces fracking into communities," Tish O’Dell, CELDF’s Ohio Community Organizer, said in a press statement.

The Bill of Rights measures, O'Dell added, "challenge the corporate claimed 'right' to frack, and the state’s preemption of their right to protect their own health, safety, and welfare."

Beiersdorfer, who's a geologist, added: "The scientific documentation is starting to come out—the air pollution, the radioactivity, the earthquakes."

A ballot measure to ban fracking also comes to the belly of the oil and gas industry—Texas—where the city of Denton could be the state's first to ban fracking.

Supporters of the ban say fracking has brought Denton negative health and safety impacts, including water contamination.

Their efforts to ban the practice have been vastly outspent by industry groups—another example of a David versus Goliath battle, ban supporters say.

What might be the ban supporters' hopes are the industry's fears— that a ban in Denton could catalyze other municipalities to follow suit.

Ed Ireland, head of the pro-fracking Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, told the Dallas Morning News: “Once there is a precedent it’s more likely to embolden the radical environmental groups that are trying to stop the production of fossil fuels."

Three counties in California—Mendocino, Santa Barbara and San Benito—are also putting a fracking ban in front of voters.

As the site hit by the first major oil spill in the United States in 1969, Santa Barbara could play a key role in the energy crossroads the nation faces, fracking ban supporters there say.

The pro-ban Community Environment Council states: "As the site of the first major oil spill in the United States in 1969 – which galvanized the modern environmental movement – Santa Barbara has a real as well as symbolic role to play in rejecting the most destructive forms of fossil-fuel production, transitioning to clean energy, and creating a blueprint for other communities to follow."

As the Post Carbon Institute's Asher Miller writes of the so-called fracking revolution: "It’s not too late to choose a different path."

That's just what the supporters of these fracking ban initiates are hoping for.

"We certainly can't afford to put our children's homes at risks—and there will be risks," Beiersdorfer said.

People are starting to see, she said, that fracking "is not all it's fracked up to be."

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