We typically focus on state court class actions when they reach the appellate level, but wanted to note an interesting decision at the trial court level. An Ohio court has rejected a proposed class action by a group seeking to ban hydraulic fracturing in their community. See Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhood v. Ohio, No. CV-14-836899 (Ohio Ct. Com. Pl., 7/1/15).
Last December, community activists filed the class action against the state, the governor, and some fracking defendants, with the far-reaching argument that the portion of state law (Ohio Rev. Code § 1509) that gives the state Department of Natural Resources exclusive authority to permit, locate, space and regulate oil and gas wells, somehow violates plaintiffs’ state constitutional right to local self-governance. Plaintiffs’ community had voted in favor of a city ordinance that bans fracking within the boundaries of their city.
The court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, relying in large measure on a recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling in State v. Beck Energy Corp., Ohio, No. 2013-465, 2015 WL 687475 (Ohio, 2/17/15). The ban on fracking was an invalid exercise of the city’s home rule authority as it was preempted by Ohio Rev.C. 1509 as a matter of law. In Beck, the state supreme court had noted that Chapter 1509 regulates oil and gas wells and production operations in Ohio. While it preserves certain limited powers for local governments, it gives the state government “sole and exclusive authority” to regulate the permitting, location, and spacing of oil and gas wells and production operations within the state.The supreme court held that the Home Rule Amendment to the Ohio Constitution did not grant to a city the power to enforce its own permitting scheme atop the state system.
More background on this local regulation debate can be found at Knight & Gullman, The Power Of State Interest: Preemption Of Local Fracking Ordinances In Home-Rule Cities, 28 Tul. Envtl. L.J. 297 (Summer, 2015).