Thursday, July 30, 2009

Natural Gas in Ohio

Faced with the prospect of a natural gas well about 180 feet from their home in Stow, Dan and Denise Tonelli have no local officials to whom they can turn. The reason? A state law passed in 2004 ended the power of local governments to exert any control over oil and gas drilling within local boundaries. As explained Monday by Jim Carney, a Beacon Journal staff writer, the Tonellis almost certainly will be forced into joining a group of nearby homeowners in a mandatory arrangement.

The couple may appeal to a special board that advises the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, but the panel is stacked with oil and gas industry representatives. For the past two years, the panel has upheld these mandatory deals, the ODNR approving virtually all permit requests. Royalties are of little concern to the Stow couple. Although the gas well would bring much-needed cash to the Stow Community United Church of Christ, on whose land it would be drilled, the loss of privacy and fears about safety have the Tonellis considering selling their home.

Evidence that the 2004 law, strongly backed by oil and gas interests, went too far continues to pile up, especially in densely populated Northeast Ohio. The law, which permits drilling as close as 100 feet to a home, is considered one of the most industry-friendly in the country. (The old standard in Stow was twice as much, 200 feet.) Drilling interests, whose profits support a powerful lobbying arm, were close to opening public parks to their rigs until the language was stripped from the recent budget bill.

Returning a stronger role for local governments to control oil and gas drilling in residential areas is long overdue. In suburban and urban neighborhoods, the tradeoffs demand a full airing, the marginal value of more oil and gas in the global market carefully balanced against the negative aspects of drilling and operating wells in residential neighborhoods.

This week, state Sen. Tim Grendell, a Geauga County Republican, plans to introduce legislation that would allow local governments to adopt a set of uniform standards, among them a 500-foot buffer between a well and a home. That's a start. Local governments deserve greater latitude to listen and respond to local voices opposing oil and gas drillers out to make a profit in their back yards.

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