Group challenges Ohio’s drilling rules
Canton Repository | Edd Pritchard
September 25, 2012
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A national environmental group working with several statewide organizations took shots at Ohio’s regulations governing oil and natural gas drilling in a report issued Tuesday.
Earthworks, which calls itself a national resource extraction watchdog, issued a 13-page report contending that several states fail to enforce oil and gas extractionregulations. A separate four-page report claimed the Ohio Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management provide inadequate enforcement, which means ongoing drilling in Ohio is irresponsible.
State officials and industry support groups fired back, citing reports that Ohio’s drilling regulations are among the strictest in the nation. They also chided Earthworks for using outdated information and ignoring regulations that took effect during the summer.
Oil and gas drilling has increased during the past 10 years in Ohio as state officials modified regulations. Some changes have opened the door for more drilling in urban areas. The oil and gas division is part of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Since early 2010, companies have been coming into eastern Ohio hoping to drill into the Utica and Marcellus shale formations. During the past 18 months, nearly 400 permits have been issued for horizontal wells into shale. About 150 wells have been drilled, and more than 30 are producing.
Earthworks said its Oil and Gas Accountability Project spent more than a year collecting information and interviewing industry and state officials for the report. It reviewed practices inOhio, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, New Mexico and Colorado.
Bruce Baizel, senior staff attorney for Earthworks, said “Ohio’s enforcement of state oil and gas rules is largely broken.” He said the state should stop issuing drilling permits until it can guarantee adequate enforcement.
Earthworks contends that ODNR doesn’t have enough employees to inspect the state’s 65,000 operating oil and gas wells. The organization said more than 90 percent of the wells in Ohio go uninspected each year. Earthworks also contends that penalties are so cheap it’s less expensive for companies to pay fines instead of complying with the law.
State officials fired back that Earthworks used old information in its report.
Rob Nichols, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, said authors of the Earthworks report “will be pleased to learn that Ohio now has one of the strongest regulatory structures in the nation.”
ODNR has been working during the past two years to expand its inspector staff. The Earthworks report notes that Ohio went from 21 inspectors in 2010 to 27 in 2011, with plans to have 33 well inspectors.
Right now the division has 37 inspectors and another 12 management positions that serve as inspection backups. The division plans to hire eight more employees, most of whom will be inspectors, a spokesman said.