WKYC: At what price gas and oil drilling in Northeast Ohio?

7:49 PM, Apr 23, 2008   |    comments
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WKYC has spent four months tracking the latest developments in what local Northeast Ohio residents and governments continue to face in light of increased oil and gas well drilling here. In Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Summit counties, the problems and "incidents" associated with gas and oil well drilling don't seem to be going away. In early December downstate in Columbus, state lawmakers considered allowing drilling in state parks. That state park drilling provision was part of House Bill 357, an alternative energy bill. The Ohio Environmental Council vehemently opposed the provision. Ironically, on the heels of that proposal, came the Dec. 15 house explosion in Bainbridge in Geauga County, where gas well drilling in a nearby English Drive property allowed methane gas to seep into water wells in surrounding homes. The one home that had the explosion in its basement is still uninhabitable and dozens of other homeowners are still unable to use their water wells for drinking water. Northeast Ohio is particularly "blessed" with an abundance of underground oil and gas. In September 2004, Ohio House Bill 278 was passed. It delegated exclusive authority for the regulation of urban oil and gas wells to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mineral Resources Management. In the three and a half years since then, drilling in Northeast Ohio has increased tremendously, as have the problems asociated with it. The ODNR's sole authority to grant permits to drillers and to have ODNR inspect the wells for safety has presented a challenge to local governments when an "accident" or "incident" of any kind occurs. For example, in Cuyahoga County, Gates Mills Fire Chief Tom Robinson asked ODNR in December to allow his village's firefighters better access to wells for checking on the wells' safety when any kind of accident occurs. Robinson said eight of his village's firefighters have received specific training in handling gas well incidents and fires. Robinson repeated that request again earlier this month, after two April incidents at wells, including a shut off at the Town Hall's gas well, increased his desire to have ODNR grant his firefighters access to the wells. Robinson said his department has responded to six calls regarding wells since Jan. 1, compared to seven calls in all of 2007. Robinson said it was the lengthy response times from the well drillers and ODNR to safety issues and incidents that prompted his request. In January, Concord resident Kari Matsko founded the Northeast Ohio Gas and Accountability Project, a new advocacy group that calls for stricter regulation of Ohio's oil and gas well industry. Matsko said increased drilling and increased "incidents" in Northeast Ohio was the reason NEOGAP was formed. Although based in Lake County, NEOGAP covers all of Northeast Ohio. Residents and local governments are still trying to deal with these wells, from managing safety access and maintaining nearby roads and streets, to avoiding erosion and runoff and handling complaints about noise, fumes, and landscaping. In Cuyahoga County in February, Bass Energy began drilling a gas well at the Golden Gate Shopping Center in Mayfield Heights, in the parking lot between Conrad's Total Car Care and Panera Bread. While it is only near about a handful of homes on Woodrow Avenue, there were concerns from residents across that city about any drilling at all. Mayfield Heights residents had already protested a proposal to drill in the city's park just down Marsol Drive, west of Golden Gate. In mid-March, the Summit County City of Munroe Falls appealed ODNR's permit approval for an oil and gas well to be drilled within 400 feet of the Cuyahoga River. That permit, issued Oct. 18 to D & L Energy Inc. for the Sonoco property in Munroe Falls, allows drilling that would be just a mile upstream from the wellhead that produces all the drinking water for Cuyahoga Falls, Munroe Falls and Silver Lake. "It has been estimated that this wellhead serves around 50,000 residents of these cities," said Thomas R. Houlihan, special legal counsel for the city. In early April, Munroe Falls received good news. For now, the city had gained a reprieve from having D & L Energy drill an oil and gas well on the Sonoco property. ODNR issued a "stay order" on behalf of the city, stopping any further action by Sonoco or the drilling company until ODNR can review the data and set a hearing date.

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