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Munroe Falls to appeal home rule case to Ohio Supreme Court

By Bob Downing Published: February 15, 2013

By my co-worker Paula Schleis:

 

Munroe Falls will ask the Ohio Supreme Court to weigh in on whether oil and gas well drillers must follow city ordinances requiring construction and zoning permits.

Mayor Frank Larson said on Friday that the city will appeal a 9th District Ohio Court of Appeals decision that stops the city from enforcing parts of its permit process because they differ from state rules.

While the court sided with the city when it came to excavation and right-of-way permits, Larson said there is still an argument to be made about a city’s right to home rule.

"All we’re saying is, let’s use some common sense. The state says they don’t want oil and gas wells to be drilled in certain places. Well, why should the state be the one who is able to pick that and just totally ignore the citizens," Larson said.

The case is being watched throughout the state, he said.

"We will probably have a heck of a lot of cities that will want to join the suit on it. It seems to be a hot issue right now," Larson said.

The appeals court ruling overturned the 2011 decision of Summit County Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands, who had ruled Beck Energy Corp. needed to follow city rules required of all developers, which included paying application fees and acquiring a performance bond.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources had sided with Beck, which refused to apply for the permits, saying it had given the company permission to drill a gas well on a residential property in Munroe Falls and that was all the documentation needed.

The only ordinances the city may enforce, the appeals court ruled, are those dealing with excavation and rights-of-way, including streets, bridges and sidewalks, as long as they do not apply those laws in a way that discriminates against drillers.

The lawsuit stems from Beck’s effort to install a well on a private Munroe Falls Avenue property.

The Ravenna-based drilling company started to build a drive on the property for carrying equipment to the site, but Larson and the city police department showed up with a stop-work order.

Larson said he was not trying to stop the drilling but to get Beck to collect the required permits for things like assuring roads give proper access to fire and police vehicles in an emergency, installing adequate fencing to keep pedestrians out of the construction area and regulating landscaping.

Beck refused to apply for the permits and performance bonds, saying the state’s approval was all it needed. The ODNR said its permits pre-empt local law.

Rowlands disagreed.

"While this court recognizes and respects Ohio’s need for uniformity in oil and gas regulation throughout the state, local communities retain a right to oversee those operations within their territory," Rowlands said in her ruling.

Beck did not return a call seeking comment about the appeals court ruling.

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.

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Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.