High court: Munroe Falls' laws can't restrict Beck Energy drilling operations

by Jeremy Nobile | Reporter Published:

Munroe Falls -- An Ohio appellate court has ruled that some of Munroe Falls' own ordinances cannot be applied to an energy company that sought to drill a gas well in the city.

On Feb. 6, the 9th District Ohio Court of Appeals reversed a 2011 ruling from Summit County Common Pleas Court that ultimately said Beck Energy Corp. was required to follow municipal laws governing the way all developers operate in the city.

At the heart of the case is whether local law supersedes or conflicts with state laws governing the operation of gas and oil wells -- which are regulated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Beck Energy President David Beck, Munroe Falls Law Director Jack Morrison Jr. and Munroe Falls Mayor Frank Larson did immediately return requests for comment Feb. 11.

While the city said Beck Energy needed to file for zoning certificates and follow city ordinances, the company says that having an oil and gas permit by ODNR excludes the need for the company to acquire permits and zoning certificates from the city or pay the related application fees Munroe Falls charges developers.

After Beck Energy initiated operations on a proposed gas well at 224 Munroe Ave. on March 30, 2011, by bringing in a bulldozer and employees, the city issued a stop work order until zoning and building permits had been obtained.

The city asked the company to obtain a road-opening permit because Beck Energy was connecting the gas line to Munroe Falls Avenue. The city also required a permit for crossing over the city's right-of-way to enter the property.

David Beck, president of Beck Energy, initially refused to stop the work on the property, but then said he had talked to his attorney about the matter and picked up applications for the permit.

He told the Stow Sentry on March 31, 2011, the company had decided to file for the permits.

However, the company reportedly opted not to file for a permit later on, and Morrison filed a complaint against the company with the Summit County Common Pleas on April 6, 2011.

"They feel that once they get their permit from the state it permits them to do anything and everything," said Larson in a May 2011 Stow Sentry article. "I think they are wrong, and I think the court will uphold our decision. Anybody has to respect and abide by the ordinances."

In an April 13, 2011, letter, Morrison warned the city would post a stop work order if the company failed or refused to obtain all necessary permits. Morrison said in the letter the city would seek an injunction against Beck Energy if the company continues working after a stop work order is issued.

On May 3, 2011, the court of common pleas issued a preliminary injunction and subsequently ordered in a permanent injunction precluding the well from engaging in any further operations until all the city's laws were met. According to court documents, the trial court stated the city was exercising its right to oversee drilling activities in its territory.

In its appeal, Beck Energy argued the trial court erred.

The higher court ruled in favor of Beck Energy last week and found that Munroe Falls' laws are in conflict with state law.

According to the decision, the city can enforce laws governing rights-of-way, "but cannot enforce these rights-of-way ordinances in a way that discriminates against, unfairly impedes, or obstructs oil and gas activities and operations."

Email: jnobile@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400, ext. 4179

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