Firefighters from around Ohio fight a derrick fire during a training session at Wayne County Fire and Rescue Training Facility in 2008. (AP Photo/Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal)
Ohio’s oil and gas industry and environmental groups are satisfied with a compromise reached this week on one bill before the state legislature, but both camps remain divided on controversial community right-to-know provisions in another pending bill.
Gov. John Kasich’s House budget bill, House Bill 64, would exempt oil and gas operations from providing hazardous chemical information directly to local authorities and emergency responders.
Critics say those provisions conflict with federal community right-to-know requirements. Similar terms were proposed last year.
HB 64 also renews efforts to raise taxes on oil and gas operations. The industry opposes those provisions.
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Republished with permission
By Ellen M. Gilmer and Mike Lee
Almost three weeks after Ohio’s top court struck down a town’s restrictive drilling ordinances, lawyers and local officials are predicting another round of court cases to settle how much control local governments have over oil and gas development.
The state Supreme Court ruled that the Akron-area town of Munroe Falls could not require Beck Energy Corp. to get separate drilling permits, finding that only the state can issue drilling permits. But it left open whether cities can use zoning to control where drilling happens, and whether the outright drilling bans in some towns can continue to stand.
In the weeks following the highly anticipated decision, attorneys have rushed to interpret how and when that issue will be decided. Will Ohio follow in the footsteps of New York and Pennsylvania, which have preserved some local powers over drilling; follow Colorado and Texas, which have taken a harder line; or chart a new path?
(Photo by WCN 24/7 via Creative Commons)
A Michigan township took careful steps this month to indirectly regulate oil and gas development within its borders — a legally tricky move amid growing public unrest and uncertainty over hydraulic fracturing here.
Cannon Township, about 20 minutes northwest of Grand Rapids in West Michigan, adopted a series of ordinance changes that regulate new building construction, drilling equipment and “unwholesome substances.”
While townships and counties are preempted by state law on many aspects of oil and gas development, including hydraulic fracturing, they can focus on some ancillary activities of the practice and enforce police powers to give local residents some say.
Maryann Lesert (courtesy photo)
For Michigan author Maryann Lesert, an accurate portrait of the fracking industry only comes from years of visiting well sites, researching scientific literature, attending oil and gas land-leasing auctions and talking to residents who can see 100-foot-tall drill rigs from their backyards.
That’s exactly what Lesert did while developing for her novel-in-progress, “Threshold,” a fictional telling of her biographical journals and experiences teaching college writing courses. Set in Michigan, the end result is a deep distrust of the industrial practice, a perceived threat to Michigan’s connection to nature and water.
“Threshold” — named after the concept knowing “what circumstances or situations will cause each of us to act so we don’t rationalize and deliberate indefinitely,” she says — will be Lesert’s third novel. Her first, “Base Ten,” was published in 2009 and explores the struggle of women who pursue careers in science, but which also pays homage to Michigan’s natural landscape. Lesert’s second, the novel-in-progress “For Lydia,” draws on personal experience seeing a family member struggle with Alzheimer’s.
Lesert, 51, began her professional writing career as a playwright, publishing and producing several plays after her first in 1998. She is an associate professor of English at Grand Rapids Community College. Pursuing the fracking industry is part of Lesert’s lifelong interest in the environment, social justice and the sciences. And seeing, not just reading, is what Lesert says has been a vital component of “Threshold.”
By any measure, 2014 was a significant year in the energy world. the continued rise of fracking, impending EPA carbon regulations, and the ever-glacial pace of global climate negotiations are likely familiar stories to Midwest Energy News readers.
But our focus is more at the state and regional level, and over the past year we’ve helped surface and amplify stories that otherwise might have fallen under the radar.
Here are some of the biggest stories of the past year, based on readership metrics and other factors.
A drilling rig at a Marcellus Shale site in Pennsylvania. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
The Ohio Senate began hearings this week on a bill that could let oil and gas companies skirt current laws dealing with disclosure of chemical hazards to local communities and water withdrawals from the Lake Erie watershed.
The Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 490 in November, and the Ohio Senate could vote on the bill as early as next week. If passed in its current form, the bill could face challenges under federal law.
Community right-to-know issues
HB 490 would make the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) the main storehouse for oil and gas company filings about the hazards of chemicals used in their operations.
Currently, those companies and many other industrial operations are supposed to provide the information to the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC), as well as local emergency planning committees and fire departments. The requirement stems from the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Congress passed that law in 1986 in the aftermath of the Bhopal factory disaster that killed thousands of people in India.
Natural gas operations in Broadview Heights, Ohio, take place next door to homes. (Photo courtesy of Tish O’Dell)
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is siding with two oil and gas companies in a court case challenging a Cleveland suburb’s ban on oil and gas drilling within city limits.
The November 12 motion is the latest step in a series of cases where different branches and levels of Ohio government have faced off against each other. At issue is the extent to which each can limit how and where drilling and related activities take place.
The municipality involved in the case, Broadview Heights, is among a handful of Ohio cities that oppose additional oil and gas activities within their boundaries. Earlier this month, Athens became the latest Ohio city to ban new drilling within city limits.
ODNR and the gas companies claim local governments have no authority to limit any activities relating to oil and gas. Cities say the statute on which their opponents rely conflicts with the Ohio Constitution.
Voters in Youngstown, Ohio rejected an anti-fracking ballot measure for the fourth time on Tuesday, while similar measures also failed in two other communities.
The proposed community bill of rights in Youngstown, part of an ongoing effort by local activists to limit drilling activity in the state, was supported by only 42 percent of voters — meaning it fell by a wider margin than the most recent attempt in May. Backers at that time pledged to continue trying until the ordinance passed.
Similar measures were also rejected by voters in Kent and Gates Mills. Voters in Gates Mills did, however, vote in favor of authorizing electric and natural gas aggregation, along with several other Ohio communities.
Meanwhile, voters in Athens, Ohio approved a community bill of rights measure by a wide margin, with 78 percent support.
The measures were among eight nationwide dealing with the issue.
Radiation monitors like this one at the McKean landfill in Pennsylvania generally won’t register radiation from alpha particles that can be contained in waste from fracked wells, note critics. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
While a recent federal study singles out Ohio for limited information requirements in permitting for fracking wastewater disposal, advocates in the state say the issue is much broader.
Ohio requires fewer details about the liquid fracking wastes going into its underground wells than other states do, says the General Accounting Office. Environmental groups say the situation is even worse because the state’s inspection and enforcement practices are lax.
Meanwhile, “solid” waste from shale oil and gas operations raises concerns. Ohio law already exempts tons of deep shale drilling waste from landfill regulations meant to protect the public from elevated levels of heavy metals and radioactivity.
Now the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to allow “beneficial reuse” of those shale drill cuttings, including on roads and in wetland restoration.
A drilling rig in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. (Photo by WCN 24.7 via Creative Commons)
Petroleum backers say a new job survey makes the case for why Illinois should be doing more to expand drilling, particularly fracking, in the state.
The oil and gas industry has created 263,700 jobs in Illinois, according to a study released by the American Petroleum Institute Tuesday that lists direct, indirect and induced jobs created, as well as vendors with contracts with the industry, in each state.
In Illinois, 932 businesses are part of the oil and gas supply chain, the study says, supporting $33.3 billion, or five percent, of the state’s economy.
American Petroleum Institute senior economic adviser Rayola Dougher and Illinois Petroleum Council executive director Jim Watson said the study shows why state regulators should be doing more to facilitate the launch of high volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.