Ohio Supreme Court Considers Oil Drilling Case

Listen to the Story

Justice Paul Pfeifer asked pointed questions in oil drilling dispute.(Photo: Ohio Supreme Court)
Justice Paul Pfeifer asked pointed questions in oil drilling dispute.(Photo: Ohio Supreme Court)

The Ohio Supreme Court is considering a case that could affect oil and natural gas drilling in Ohio and other states.

The state’s highest court on Wednesday heard arguments in a case involving a Northeast Ohio oil well. The case turns on whether an Akron suburb has legal standing to regulate a state-permitted well.

The city of Munroe Falls, is challenging a state law which gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources sole authority to site and regulate oil wells.

In 2011, Beck Energy drilled a well on private property in a residential area. The city filed suit against the company. It claims Beck Energy broke nearly a dozen zoning regulations.

Munroe Falls says it enjoys the home-rule provision and should have a say in where an oil well is drilled.

Beck argues home-rule is trumped by a 2004 state law giving ODNR exclusive authority to regulate drilling.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer pointedly asked Beck Energy’s attorney, John Keller, whether state law pre-empts a legal appeal to the siting of an oil well.

Pfeifer: “But in terms of courts. There is no access to courts period. Right?”
Keller: “Because the General Assembly decided in 2004 to give the state the sole and exclusive authority…”
Pfeifer: “To be God in this case, right?”
Keller: “Pardon?”
Pfeifer: “To be God. The Director of Natural Resources is God in this case.”

Munroe Falls attorney, Thomas Houlihan, argues cities have shared authority with the state to regulate oil wells as part of home-rule provisions in state law.

Although the Munroe Falls case involves a traditional well, not one that is horizontally fracked, pro- and anti-drilling forces believe the case could set a national legal precedent on local laws restricting drilling, particularly hydraulic fracturing.

University of Dayton law Professor Blake Watson says the crux of the Ohio case is one of several being litigated across the country.

“And the issue really is a question of whether oil and gas activities will be regulated by the state and what role, if any, does the local community have in regulating or even perhaps prohibiting oil and gas activity,” Watson said.

Attorneys for the state say the law was intended to end “confusion, inefficiency and delays” in permitting oil and gas wells. State officials aim to have the same rules for every part of the state.

Justice Pfeifer asked for clarification from Deputy Solicitor Peter Glenn-Applegate.

“The position of the state of Ohio through the attorney general is, local zoning has no place in the regulation of oil and gas drilling in this state,?” asks justice Pfeifer.
Glenn-Applegate: “Yes your honor”

Watson says the question of local appeals takes on more weight in Ohio than in other states. Ohio is more densely populated than Texas, North Dakota or even mountainous areas of Pennsylvania.

“Fracking has now caused oil and gas extraction activities to take places in some instances closer to urban and suburban areas and that raises the potential for conflict not only between the land owners and oil and gas companies but also between land owners who have oil and gas rights and land owners who do not have oil and gas rights,” says Watson.

A decision is expected later this year in the case.

Comments