Local Gas Drilling Laws Get A Key Airing In Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A closely watched lawsuit in Ohio is asking a question that's burning in cities and towns throughout shale country: Can regulations in states eager for the jobs and tax revenues that come with gas and oil drilling trump local restrictions that communities say protect them from haphazard development?

The case was brought by Munroe Falls, an Akron suburb of 5,000. It involves a well that Beck Energy Corp. began to drill — with the state's permission — on private property in the city in 2011. In the process, the company sidestepped 11 local laws on road use, permitting and drilling, the city contends.

The legal disagreement over whether Beck's permit can pre-empt Munroe Falls' local regulations reached the Ohio Supreme Court this summer. Both pro- and anti-drilling forces are watching the case because it's further along in the courts than similar lawsuits in other states and the outcome could encourage or deter the implementation elsewhere of local laws to limit drilling.

The case has implications for the spread of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial method of injecting sand, water and chemicals to free the gas from shale rock deep underground. The case in Munroe Falls centers on a traditionally drilled well, but the centralized oil and gas regulation that's in question regulates both kinds.

In the rich shale oil states of New York, where fracking is not yet legal and many communities have instituted pre-emptive bans, and Pennsylvania, where fracking is widespread, similar cases have been decided in favor of shared regulation, with municipalities overseeing such things as land use and aesthetics and the state overseeing safety and construction. The lawsuit cites Texas, California, Oklahoma and Colorado as states that use a shared system.

"If this goes the way that I hope and pray it would go, it would restore some home rule to municipalities that has been taken away by the state," said Munroe Falls Mayor Frank Larson. "It would uphold our right to be able to zone certain areas and exclude certain uses and to allow those uses in other areas."

The 2004 state law under which Beck's state permit was issued consolidated oil and gas production operations under the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The company said in court filings that the idea was "to end the confusion, inefficiency and delays under the earlier patchwork of local ordinances, and to ensure that Ohio's oil and gas resources are developed on a uniform statewide basis."


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