Oil and gas drillers have to follow a multitude of laws and regulations to help ensure that nothing they do pollutes the environment or drinking water supplies. But do those rules provide enough protection?
Are Ohio’s laws and regulations for oil and gas drilling strong enough to protect your water, property and the environment?
In 2010, the Ohio General Assembly did its first major rewrite of the oil and gas laws with Senate Bill 165, which set standards for drilling well casing. It followed that up with Senate Bill 315 last year, which established new testing and data reporting requirements.
In general, the laws require the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the primary oil and gas drilling regulator, to inspect the drilling site before construction of a well pad and issuance of a drilling permit. The agency must attach conditions to the permit setting well construction requirements, protecting water, requiring safe disposal of waste, requiring necessary fencing, screening and landscaping, describing how access roads to the well are constructed and mitigating drilling noise.
ODNR also has to issue rules to prevent releases and discharges, inspect drilling activity, set requirements for the pits where drill cuttings and brine is kept, oversee the disposal of brine, set standards for the injection wells where fracking waste is disposed of, and ensure the well is properly plugged after production ceases, according to the state’s shale information website.
Drillers also have to get construction approval from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers if the drilling could impact wetlands, streams, or rivers, the state’s shale info website says.
And the drillers have to get an air permit from Ohio EPA if the well will emit anything into the air. The EPA also has jurisdiction over the transporting of solid waste off the drilling site and any pumping of water from public water systems. The Ohio Department of Health has jurisdiction over handling of any radioactive materials due to drilling.
AMONG THE BEST?
ODNR’s website says, “Ohio’s new law establishes one of the nation’s toughest regulatory frameworks for overseeing the new technologies that allow for the exploration of natural gas in deep shale rock formations.”
In 2011, the non-profit group State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations or STRONGER concluded that Ohio’s drilling regulatory framework is “well-managed, professional and meeting its program objectives.” It commended Ohio’s requirements that drillers provide comprehensive information on the drilling of a well and regulations that allow ODNR to require drillers replace any water supplies they contaminate or shut down a well that’s causing environmental problems.
“These remedies provide a strong incentive to prevent or correct problems that could lead to groundwater contamination,” the report says.
In an answer to a STRONGER questionnaire, ODNR said if there’s any defects in the casing or cementing of a well, drillers have to stop operations and notify ODNR. If the problem isn’t fixed, the well has to be plugged. Drillers have to submit all the logs that have data on the quality of the cement job.
Page 2 of 3 - State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley Township, who represents western Stark County, voted against the final Senate Bill 315 because he felt it didn’t require drillers disclose more about the chemicals they were using.
“I would lean toward greater disclosure,” he said. But, “we’ve got something that’s pretty good.”
LaRose said SB 315 requires ODNR to monitor the entire life of a well from development to its capping several years later.
However, he said he would like to see some improvements such as allowing local governments more of a voice in overseeing drilling and the industry’s use of local roads “without going back to the patchwork approach that existed years ago.” The Ohio General Assembly in 2004 passed House Bill 278, which gave nearly all regulatory authority over oil and gas drilling to the state.
LaRose said he would also like to see the state require drillers to pay for monitoring of nearby drinking water after oil and gas wells have been drilled.
Bill Williams, a partner for Krugliak Wilkins who specializes in oil and gas law, said it’s difficult to determine if Ohio’s regulations are among the toughest in the nation. That’s because laws and regulations in other states, especially West Virginia and Pennsylvania, keep on changing.
He said in West Virginia, if drillers cause damage to crops, trees or anything on the surface, they have to compensate whoever owns the property. But in Ohio, if the property owner no longer controls the mineral rights, no such compensation is owed the property owner.
Julian Boggs, a policy advocate for the group Environment Ohio, says Ohio regulations are too weak and don’t sufficiently require drillers to disclose all the chemicals they’re using.
“You can’t begin to have a conversation whether or not rules are strong enough ... if you don’t know what chemicals you’re dealing with and you don’t know what the baseline ambient levels are,” he said. “(Senate Bill) 315 took us a step back in chemical disclosure. ... it specifically took away what was a gray area which is the ability of doctors to disclose information about chemicals their patients had been exposed to.”
He says the bill’s requirement that all water wells within 1,500 feet be tested is also inadequate.
Boggs said Ohio still doesn’t require that drillers place hydraulic fracturing waste in injection wells. He said federal and state regulators should classify fracking waste as a hazardous waste and place it in the more stringent, but more costly, Class 1 injection wells. Much of the waste goes into Class 2 injection wells.
However, Boggs said the state has improved its regulations on drilling well casing strength and requirements to use thicker cement and more stringent testing. He said Ohio’s injection well regulations requiring seismic testing around injection wells — in response to an earthquake near Youngstown in 2011 that resulted in the disposal of waste in an injection well — are among the nation’s strongest.
Page 3 of 3 - But “does Ohio have tougher regulation? ... it’s hard to make the blanket statement,” he said, adding that many states don’t have significant oil and gas drilling. “In some places, Ohio might have stronger rules and in other places, Ohio might have weaker rules.”
Here are some online links to read specific regulations and rules for oil and gas drilling.
• Senate Bill 315: www.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=129_SB_315
• Senate Bill 165: www.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=128_SB_165
• Ohio oil and gas laws: codes.ohio.gov/orc/1509
• State regulations on drilling: codes.ohio.gov/oac/1501%3A9-1
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