In southeastern Ohio, there are quite a number of oil and gas wells. In fact, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Oil and Gas Well Viewer, there are at least nine active wells just off of Greene Street, just east of County House Lane, east of the city of Marietta. A wider view of the map shows the region of southeastern and eastern Ohio with literally hundreds of such wells — some of them dry, some of them with permits expired, some of them active and others showing to have an unknown status.
With so many oil and gas wells in the area, it begs the question — who or what decides where an oil or gas well can be drilled? Who or what decides where oil and or natural gas can be extracted from the land? While the geology of the Utica and Marcellus shales do play a significant part in how and where various oil and gas companies search for oil and gas, state, local and federal regulations do play a part as well.
In many states, such as Pennsylvania and New York, where and when an oil well is drilled depends largely on the application and permitting processes that are regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, respectively.
But, before you think that these governmental agencies are the final say, in New York and Pennsylvania, whether or not an oil or natural gas well goes into production, think again. It turns out that in Pennsylvania, local communities gained the right to refuse hydraulic fracturing in their own backyard, as ruled by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2013. In addition, local communities within the state of New York have used zoning laws and local ordinances to help control where oil and gas wells are located in their community, and many other states are following suit.
But what about Ohio? Well, much like the surrounding states, where and when oil and gas wells are introduced into the community depends largely on the permitting process of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. However, if a recent Ohio State Supreme Court ruling is any indication, local communities will be granted little say in whether or not oil wells or even hydraulic fracturing are seen down the street from their houses.
According to an article written by Andrew Harris in World Oil Magazine, dated February 17, 2015, the town of Munroe Falls, Ohio (just outside of Columbus), lost its right to control which companies can drill inside community boundaries, and for what reason. In a four-to-three decision, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the town could not block the drilling permits that were issued on behalf of Beck Energy. They determined that their efforts to do so were not an exercise of home rule, as the community leaders indicated, but rather an exercise of police power — and it did, in fact, conflict with state regulations which were enacted in 2004.
So what does this mean for the local communities in Ohio? Well, for starters, it looks like the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is the go-to agency when it comes to oil and gas well permitting. It also should be noted that the ODNR has extensive regulations in place that are designed to protect people’s health and the environment.
Does this mean that the local communities have absolutely no say in the permitting of wells in their community? While it is unlikely that local communities will be able to use home rule to restrict wells in their neighborhood, it should be noted that the ODNR often takes the input and advice of the local community into consideration when they issue permits. So, if you want to have an influence on where oil and gas wells are in your community, become involved on the local and on the state level. After all, this is your home and your community.
For a continuation of this topic, read Challenging the Status Quo.