Munroe Falls, a humble city southeast of Cleveland with just over 5,000 inhabitants, sought to stop Beck Energy Corporation from moving forward with oil and gas drilling within city borders. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources had issued a permit to the company four years earlier in 2011. The case was escalated to the Ohio Supreme Court after a lower court ruled against the city. The highly divided verdict denied Munroe Falls' reasoning that it was legally implementing its power of home rule. The law states that cities and communities can exercise local regulations so long as they don't obstruct or oppose state rules. The jury ultimately ruled that Munroe Falls had extended its authority beyond its bounds, for purposes other than self-governing, and clashed with state laws set forth in 2004.
Environmental protection organization Food & Water Watch reports that U.S. municipalities have passed more than 400 measures to limit fracking. The practice uses hydropower, sand, and specialized chemicals to extract oil and gas from subterranean shale croppings. Industry experts tout the process as efficient and a boon to the U.S. oil and gas industry, while environmentalists lament its effect on the landscape.
City vs. State
Justice Judith French stated that the case created a compelling discussion in favor of collaboration between local and state governments. The state would preside over the construction and drilling operations, while municipalities would allocate acreage within their jurisdiction for such projects. Munroe Falls' ordinances required Beck Energy to pay $800 in application fees, post a $2,000 bond, avoid drilling in the designated area for one year, and be present at a public hearing no later than three weeks before the project commencement date. Failure to abide by the law would beget a $1,000 fine and/or up to six months in the county jail. Vice president David Beck told interviewers that the company has long abided by state laws and regulations designed to maximize safety and efficiency in drilling. Beck Energy currently owns and operates over 300 wells across ten Ohio counties.
The Ohio Supreme Court stated that the company's state permit already contained 67 provisions that governed drilling and construction.
A Tough Issue
An upset Justice William O'Neill, who sided with Munroe, reported that Ohio's control over oil and gas projects was purchased by industrialists at the expense of local cities. O'Neill stated that the regulation would allow companies to construct wells even in private neighborhoods. Just last year, the state of New York ruled in favor of municipalities' right to limit state hydraulic fracking projects. Pennsylvania issued a similar verdict in 2013, upholding city authority. However, voter's efforts to limit fracking in Longmont, Colorado were stifled by state ruling. It's a difficult topic with many valid arguments for both state and city authority, and Munroe Falls certainly won't be the last city to take the fight to the courtroom.