Munroe Falls plans appeal to Ohio Supreme Court on local control of gas, oil drilling operations

Suit raises question of whether cities should have home rule power

by Jeremy Nobile | Reporter Published:

Munroe Falls -- City officials frustrated with the lack of municipal control in the regulation of oil and gas drilling operations plan to take their fight to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Munroe Falls Mayor Frank Larson and Law Director Jack Morrison Jr. have said the city is planning to appeal a 9th District Ohio Court of Appeals decision that overturned part of a 2011 ruling from Summit County Common Pleas Court by Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands that ultimately said Munroe Falls could oversee drilling activities in its territory.

The appeal has not yet been filed, Larson said.

On Feb. 6, the appellate court ruled that some of Munroe Falls' own ordinances cannot be applied to Ravenna-based Beck Energy Corp. -- a company seeking to drill a new gas well in the city -- if those laws restrict actual drilling operations because those processes are governed exclusively by the state through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

However, the high court upheld the lower court's finding that Beck Energy is still required to follow local laws governing the way developers operate in the city as long as they don't discriminate against drilling specifically.

After Beck Energy attempted to initiate operations on a proposed well located on private property at 224 Munroe Falls Ave. on March 30, 2011, by bringing in a bulldozer and employees to build a driveway for the transport of heavy, work-related equipment, the city issued a stop-work order until zoning and building permits were obtained -- items Morrison said the company had been made aware of by the city in writing but refused to comply with because the company believed an oil and gas permit from ODNR was all it needed.

"They blatantly never filed for any permits, and that's why we followed up with a stop-work order," said Larson.

The city asked the company to obtain a road-opening permit because Beck Energy was connecting to a gas line under Munroe Falls Avenue. The city also requested a permit and bonds for crossing over the city's right-of-way to enter the property, among other requirements Morrison said the city requests of all developers to protect both safety and the city's assets.

Considering the appellate court's ruling, Beck Energy President David Beck said Feb. 20 his company "will do what the state and what the judge intended for us to do."

"First and foremost, we're going to follow the law set out by the state of Ohio, and we'll continue to proceed in a proper fashion," Beck said.

"We are reviewing that [ruling], and we will address it in a timely manner," he added. "We will continue our efforts to try to get that well built."

As of last week, activity at the proposed site remained stalled. Beck said the company has not yet sought the related permits or other requirements necessary to proceed with drilling operations at the proposed Munroe Falls site, but will in the "near future."

"We're working on it," he said.

Munroe Falls' appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, however, is unrelated to Beck themselves, Larson said.

"We're hoping this will get them to address this whole issue of home rule," he said, "and this is the way we have to go about doing it."

Morrison reinforced Larson's comments. He said the city has always been aware it can't actually tell Beck Energy it can't drill a well, but that the argument needed posed in the hierarchy of courts before the issue could be considered by the Ohio Supreme Court.

"It's all part of our strategy to get this before the Supreme Court," he said.

Larson said he believes it's wrong the state has complete power over oil and gas drilling operations.

"It's a statewide issue that the legislature can automatically strip municipalities completely clean of any regulation," Larson said. "We think they've overstepped their boundaries, and we believe that the majority of people in the state will agree with us."

Larson said there has been strong interest from other cities that may be interested in joining in the suit as "amicus curiae," which is Latin for "friend of the court." Those included as amicus curiae would not be a listed party in the case, but could offer information pertinent to the suit.

Beck said he thinks the power to regulate oil and gas drilling processes should remain under the state's control.

"Some things are just better regulated at a state level, and oil and gas is one of them," Beck said. "That was decided by the legislature, by people in the know, and that's just the way it is."

Beck said he believes home rule shouldn't be restored to the municipalities because "a lot of wells wouldn't get drilled at all."

"I'm just doing my best to run a business and to drill a well, and that's really it," he said.

Email: jnobile@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400, ext. 4179

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