In some states, local governments have been able to stop developments they thought might be bad for the area or damaging to the environment. But across the nation, state governments have been taking some of those decision-making powers away from local governments. The latest battle is over drilling for oil and natural gas. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
In some states, local governments have been able to stop developments they thought might be bad for the area or damaging to the environment. But, across the nation state governments have been taking some of those decision-making powers away from local governments. The latest battle is over drilling for oil and natural gas. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
A year ago Joel Rudicil, owner of Bass Energy Company, couldn’t drill an oil and gas well in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. He had a property owner with more than twenty acres who was willing to deal. But city officials would not permit it.
“I had met with city council here on many occasions dating back to 1998 and they simply did not want well-drilling to occur in their community. So we were really at a point of just walking away from this opportunity, or litigation.”
Instead, he joined the oil and gas industry to lobby for a bill that would take authority to regulate drilling away from local communities.
(Sound of pounding)
Today, his workers are placing piping down well number three on the Knollwood Cemetery property in Mayfield Heights. Once the oil and gas bill became law last fall, all local laws pertaining to oil and gas drilling were scrapped and the state took sole authority.
“In our case, we’ve drilled 28 wells since the bill was signed into law.”
Eight of the communities where Bass Energy dug those wells had had regulations or outright bans on oil and gas drilling.
“Of those 28 wells that I just mentioned, we would not have been able to drill 20 of those wells.”
Mayfield Heights has become the poster child for Ohio’s battle for control of oil and gas drilling. Margaret Egensperger is the city’s mayor.
“Our area’s all built up here. Anywhere you’re going to build a well, you’re going to hurt our residential areas.”
Northeast Ohio is the most densely populated part of the state, but also has much of the oil and gas companies want to extract. Mayor Egensperger says one of the wells Bass Energy dug at Knollwood Cemetery was next to townhouses, condominiums, and the street.
Egensperger: “And they are right up by the condos and the noise was absolutely awful. I believe they drilled for 5 or 7 days there. We have a noise ordinance. The city was told that if, once they start to drill, if we stop them, that we’d have to pay 5-thousand dollars a day. So, of course we didn’t enforce the noise ordinance. That’s a lot of money.”
Niehaus: “It is what’s called state pre-emption…”
Republican state senator Tom Niehaus sponsored the bill that gives the authority to the Ohio Division of Mineral Resources.
Niehaus: “The state has exercised its right to say that this is an important state resource. I personally feel, and my fellow legislators felt, that the state division was in the better position to evaluate whether or not drilling should be permitted in certain areas.”
Grant: “What to do you say when they say ‘we know our issues, we know our citizens, we know the land here and our planning better then the state could ever know it’?”
Niehaus: “I probably would agree that they know their local community better, but I would argue that they do not know the best way to tap the natural resources that exist underneath the land.”
Many local governments are like Mayfield Heights; they want to fight the state law in court, but worry it would cost too much money.
Some homeowners are also concerned that oil and gas wells will reduce their property values. But the oil and gas industry feels there are bigger issues at stake. Tom Stewart, Director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, says the nation needs energy.
“And you see how emotionalism is stifling what we need to do in this country to find the energy sources we need. And obviously we’re not doing the job, because you’re paying $2.30 for a gallon of gas. Right? We’re not doing the job. And we’re fighting wars. Meanwhile, we have this wonderful resource base in the United States, and every hole is a fight.”
It’s arguable whether the relatively small amount of natural gas or oil reserves left in the continental United States will make any real difference in the price of gasoline at the pump. Many city officials believe the trend tonward bigger government control will have much larger costs.
For the GLRC, I’m Julie Grant.