Marietta, Ohio - Ohio could do a better job of regulating the oil and gas industry, according to a panel of speakers who participated in a forum entitled "Ohio's Laws and the Oil and Gas Boom" at Marietta College.
The speakers included Ohio 92nd District Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens; Pavanne Pettigrew, retired from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and owner of P.L. Pettigrew Consulting, LLC; and Nathan Johnson, staff attorney for the Buckeye Forest Council. There were no representatives from the oil and gas industry on the panel to address concerns.
Phillips kicked off the discussion with a summary of the three pieces of legislation that govern oil and gas activity in Ohio.
"Senate Bill 165 was passed during the previous administration in preparation for the coming oil and gas industry in Ohio," she said. "There were conflicts, especially in some suburban areas, where some landowners who did not sign leases with oil and gas companies were being included with other property owners who did have signed leases."
Phillips said SB 165 addressed those and other issues, but it was a very lengthy process that took a couple of years to develop.
The bill also levies an oil and gas recovery tax on well owners, sets rules for minimum acreage required for drilling, requires that the state Division of Mineral Resources Management review sites before granting drilling permits and requires standards for well construction to be included in the permits.
"This was the first significant update that had been made in Ohio's oil and gas regulations for some time," Phillips said.
"And it did put us in a better position than some neighboring states in dealing with hydraulic fracturing and better casings for injection wells."
She opposed House Bill 133, which created an Oil and Gas Leasing Commission to control leasing of state-owned land for exploration and drilling.
"Private landowners can negotiate anything with oil and gas companies, but state agencies have to deal through this commission when deciding if the land they're responsible for should be leased for oil and gas development," Phillips said, adding that state parks and university lands are not the right place for drilling activity.
She also disagreed with parts of Senate Bill 315-Gov. John Kasich's energy bill-that revises requirements for oil and gas drilling permits.
"This sets a number of new requirements for drilling, as well as requirements for information and notification from oil and gas companies," Phillips said. "But I disagreed with a portion of the bill on 'trade secrets' which doesn't require companies to release the names of the chemicals they're using in hydraulic fracturing wells."
She noted that a doctor treating a patient potentially impacted by the chemicals may know what materials have been used, but he cannot share that information with the patient, according to the legislation.
"The state is ahead of where we were several years ago, but there are also areas where Ohio needs to do more work on oil and gas regulation," Phillips said.
Marietta resident Fred O'Neill asked about the role of county commissioners in regulating local oil and gas activity.
"House Bill 278 removed any requirements that oil and gas drillers have to abide by local government rulings, and essentially turned that over to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources," Phillips answered, noting the actual permitting of wells is also a state function.
But she added that local governments do have some oversight of operations within their jurisdictions.
Pettigrew said in her opinion Ohio does not conduct enough mechanical integrity testing of the state's 170-plus injection wells to make sure the facilities are constructed and working properly.
The injection wells are used by oil and gas companies from within and from outside Ohio to store waste water, or brine, used in shale hydraulic fracturing operations.
West Virginia has only a handful of injection wells, compared to Ohio.
Pettigrew said that's because the Mountain State requires testing for a two-page list of chemicals before a hauler can inject brine into the ground in that state, while Ohio does not require such extensive testing.
"If the injectate (brine) cannot meet federal safe drinking water standards, the injection well permit should be denied," she said. "I'm not against oil and gas extraction, but Ohio is on a ragged edge right now. You have to get control in the beginning of this activity, because once an aquifer is contaminated, you'll never get it cleaned up."
Johnson also said Ohio's oil and gas statutes are inadequate.
"Ohio is essentially becoming the dumping ground for wastewater from oil and gas operations," he said, noting that some hydraulic fracturing waste includes radioactive materials like radium, strontium and cadmium.
"Contamination happens," Johnson said. "The oil and gas industry reports show routine leaks in oil and gas wells that allow these chemicals to bubble to the surface."
He said between 2007 and 2010 one in seven injection wells inspected showed integrity violations in the state.
"And more than 90 percent, or 58,000 wells go uninspected every year in Ohio," Johnson added. "And companies found in violation are rarely penalized."