Potential Pipeline Promises Economic Growth Amid Environmental Concerns

Rachel Weinstein

College and community members face environmental risks as plans of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, continue to move forward. For over a year, talk of a 250-mile natural gas pipeline between Hamilton Road and Route 20 has triggered a variety of responses from the Oberlin town and College community.

In Ohio, legislatures passed a law allowing urban drilling in 2014, stripping communities of local control. Because of such legislation, cities and towns throughout the state carry little weight in decisions on installations of drilling sites.  Since the enactment of the law, over 90 wells have been cropped up throughout in the state.

Despite its environmental implications, the prospect of fracking in Lorain County promises economic gain for many. Supporters argue that Oberlin and neighboring communities could benefit greatly from the growth of the fracking industry, especially in staggering economic times, in which the unemployment rate recently reached a high of 13 percent. According to a study done by Cleveland State University, fracking is projected to produce more than 30,000 jobs and about 5 billion dollars of state revenue by 2014. In a state where energy is one of the leading industries in the creation of revenue, proliferation of well paying jobs continues to appeal to many residents who find themselves and their families in the red after the recession.

While opponents of the pipeline acknowledge that it has the potential to efficiently develop jobs and boost revenue for Ohio, red flags have been raised in fear, due to known detrimental effects of drilling on the environment and public health.  Last March, Oberlin students attended a town discussion to address concerns such as the pollution of air and water. However, because the process is in its infancy, the city of Oberlin is continuing to investigate the possibility of a drilling site near town, and has yet to draw a conclusion on the effects that fracking will have on the community and surrounding areas.

For those opposed to the installation of the pipeline, the question of fracking in Lorain County extends further than environmental risks. College junior Sam Rubin, present at the meeting last spring, says that fracking is not only an environmental issue but also one of democracy as well.  “The fountainhead of all democracy is local democracy, and we are taking control of the place that we live and deciding what we want this community to look like.”

Rubin, along with several other students in the college, is working to extend the zone of rights for residents of the area.  Because of the 2004 legislation, the issue of fracking has failed to appear on local ballots, disabling members of the Oberlin community to control the discussion of the installation of a natural gas pipeline.

“We have these rights, and then we are banning fracking because it violates those rights,” said Rubin.  “It’s important to distinguish between banning fracking because we feel like it versus banning fracking because it violates the fundamental rights we hold as human beings.”

As of now, no wells have been drilled in Oberlin, but drilling sites can be found as close as thirty miles away in neighboring communities.  City Manager Eric Norenberg explained, “The company is examining possible routes that may or may not pass through Oberlin.  So at this point, it is very early in the process.”

Because of this, the pipeline groups on campus and in the greater Oberlin community have yet to take organized action against the construction of the pipeline.

“We’re in an information-gathering, coalition-building phase, trying to figure out what we know and what we don’t know. We are trying to figure out what our next steps are,” says Rubin.  Groups on campus are currently trying to establish allies inside and outside of the College community to plan to appropriately negotiate any plans of installation.