Ohio Bill H.B. 278 sparks controversy

Bill sparks controversy by David S. Glasier, October 27, 2008, News Herald
H.B. 278, in effect since September 2004, put the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in charge of issuing permits for natural gas and oil wells in the state. Previously, drillers had to obtain permits from the cities, villages and townships where the wells were to be sunk. … However, the law did not require the company to notify the apartment tenants or the city. Mentor City Manager John W. Konrad said city officials were taken by surprise when apartment residents called to complain about the rig. They were angered by what they saw after arriving at the apartment complex.

The noise generated by the drilling rig was deafening, Konrad recalled. City officials also were troubled by various safety violations, including a burn-off pipe that was issuing a flame close to parked automobiles with gas in their tanks. “The conditions were unsafe,” Konrad said. “We felt like we had to do something, especially about the noise. We made them put a muffler in the drilling rig, which reduced the noise from unbearable to really, really annoying.” …

Dawn and Carl Siers of Concord Township, along with their two sons, were forced out of their home in July 2006 by hydrogen sulfide released by the digging of a natural gas well in a nearby church parking lot. Dawn Siers said the family lived for five months in hotels before the house was again safe to occupy. The well project was being run by John D. Oil and Gas Co. of Mentor. “We were like homeless people. It was horrible,” Siers said. Although they received payments from John D. Oil and Gas Co.’s liability insurance company for cleaning of the house and living expenses, the Sierses have filed a lawsuit against the company in the Lake County Court of Common Pleas. The suit seeks $25,000 in general damages and an unspecified amount in punitive damages. “We’re owed the money, that’s the bottom line,” Siers said. “But money isn’t the important thing. It’s the principle. It’s about making the people who did the drilling accountable for what happened. We want to make sure what we went through doesn’t happen to another family.” Greg Osborne, president and chief operating officer of John D. Oil and Gas Co., said he believes his companies did right by the Siers family. Osborne also said his company was not cited by ODNR or other government entities for any violations related to the leak.

Rick and Thelma Payne are picking up the pieces of their lives after the December 2007 explosion that ruined their Bainbridge Township home of 51 years. The Paynes, both in their 80s, have since moved into a condominium. Thelma Payne said they know they can never return to their old home on English Drive, blown off its foundation by the force of a blast caused by gas escaping from a natural gas and oil well being dug nearby by a subcontractor working for Ohio Valley Energy. “We’ve lost our beautiful home, the sugar house for making maple syrup, the gardens and a wildlife habitat,” Thelma Payne said. … The Paynes, on the advice of Chardon attorney Dale Markowitz, have refused the one settlement offer made by Ohio Valley Energy. “It was not sufficient,” Thelma Payne said. “Besides, how can anyone put a price on what we’ve lost?” At least 27 other homeowners in the English Drive area still are feeling the effects of the gas leak, too. It ruined their sources of well water, requiring the installation of water tanks in those homes.

“If you’re a company in the business of drilling wells, H.B. 278 is working,” he said. “I want to see concern for public safety at the forefront. Right now, it’s an afterthought.”

In Highland Heights, opposition from a community group has forced Mayor Scott Coleman and City Council to walk away from a signed lease with Bass Energy Co. Inc. of Fairlawn to sink two natural-gas wells in the city’s community park. … Bass Energy has filed a breach-of-contract suit against Highland Heights in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The company is seeking $7 million in damages. [Emphasis added]

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