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Local water supplies being tested in advance of oil and gas drilling in Munroe Falls

by Jeff Saunders | reporter Published: August 7, 2016 12:00 AM
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Munroe Falls -- Site preparation work has begun on a planned oil and gas well on the north side of Munroe Falls Avenue and the city has asked Cuyahoga Falls to keep a close eye on the quality of water supplies to the west.

Service Director Jim Bowery told the Stow Sentry Aug. 2 that he noticed an excavator clearing the site for the well on a vacant parcel just west of the Sonoco paper mill on July 28.

The well is to be operated by Ravenna-based Beck Energy. Company Vice President David Beck told the Stow Sentry Aug. 4 that work had started on the site during the previous week, including the construction of an access road. Beck said drilling will begin "probably some time in the next three to six weeks."

Meanwhile, Bowery told City Council, also on Aug. 2, that Cuyahoga Falls had taken samples for testing at a water field in Cuyahoga Falls about a half mile to the west of the well site. The field supplies water for Cuyahoga Falls, Munroe Falls and Silver Lake and Bowery said the purpose of the sampling is to show that any contaminants that could be found later in the field were not present prior to the well's drilling.

City Councilor Steve Stahl said, "We can prove that. That's what's important."

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Cuyahoga Falls Water Superintendent John Christopher told the Stow Sentry Aug. 4 that the samples were collected recently and sent to a lab for testing, but the results were not in yet. He said such tests are done periodically anyway to monitor the quality of the water, "but this will kind of give us a baseline we can draw on in case we see any changes in the future."

Christopher also said the city is considering drilling a water well somewhere between the water field and the oil and gas well to specifically monitor water quality in relation to the Beck well. He said he did not know how much such a test well would cost, but the funding would have to be approved by Cuyahoga Falls City Council, which is on summer hiatus and is not scheduled to meet again until Sept. 6.

Beck said Beck Energy has been working with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which oversees oil and gas drilling in the state, on plans for the well and procedures and regulations are in place to maintain water quality.

"We've been over it with ODNR time and time again and when the time comes to actually drill the well, they will be there ... we will make sure the well is drilled safely and that the surface water and the ground water are protected," said Beck. "We're confident in our ability to drill the well and not damage anybody's water."

According to ODNR's website, steps are taken to ensure the protection of water supplies.

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"During drilling, steel casings are inserted to the well bore," states the website. "The casing makes sure that the fluid to be pumped through the well, in addition to the oil and gas collected, remains isolated from groundwater and never enters the water supply.

It adds that ODNR "inspectors place a high priority on witnessing this critical phase to make certain of proper installation."

Munroe Falls Mayor James Armstrong said July 25 that the city is being told by the state that it has to accept on faith that there will be no water contamination.

"They say it's safe, but the Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable," he said.

Court case still pending

Beck Energy and the city have been fighting each other in various court cases since 2011 over drilling in the city, including one the city filed with the Ohio Supreme Court in 2013.

The latest case was a request for a declaratory judgement filed by the city in Summit County Court of Common Pleas in May asking the court for a decision as to whether the city could require Beck Energy to apply for a zoning certificate before it can drill.

Judge Paul Gallagher denied a request by the city for a temporary restraining order in late June, giving Beck Energy the go-ahead to start drilling. According to court documents, ODNR issued a new drilling permit to Beck Energy June 16 which expires June 18, 2017. A previous one-year permit expired in April.

On July 14, Gallagher ruled against the city, saying that state law granting the authority for drilling to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources supersedes a city ordinance requiring that Beck Energy apply for a zoning certificate.

Meanwhile, Beck Energy filed four counterclaims, which are still pending, against the city on July 5. They allege that:

/ The city's actions constitute an "interference with business relationship" between Beck Energy and Sonoco.

/ The city "acted to deprive / Beck energy, of all economically beneficial use of its protected private rights and interests in its private property mineral interests /" without "just compensation" in violation of both the U.S. and Ohio constitutions.

/ The city failed to provide "procedural due process" under the U.S. Constitution and state law.

/ The city failed to provide "substantive due process" by "enforcing the City of Munroe Falls' zoning ordinance in a manner that is arbitrary, capricious, in bad faith, in direct contradiction" to the Ohio Supreme Court decision.

Armstrong, who is an attorney, said the city is considering filing an appeal of Gallagher's July 14 ruling in the Ninth District Court of Appeals, but he told the Stow Sentry July 25 that the common pleas case has to be completely resolved, including the counterclaims, before an appeal can be filed.

"Because of the counterclaims, we probably don't have an appealable decision," said Armstrong.

He said the court only interprets the law and he really blames state lawmakers and "bureaucrats" for the loss of home rule by municipalities in the drilling of wells.

"I'm more upset by that than any court decision," said Armstrong, adding that he does not oppose drilling, but just believes municipalities should have some control.

"I'm glad we filed the declaratory action. I think it was the right thing to do," he said.

Email: jsaunders@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9431

Facebook: Jeff Saunders Record

Twitter: /JeffSaunders_RP


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