Attorney advises Johnston, other townships, on drilling amendments

By Ed Runyan


Johnston Township Trustee Dominic Marchese says it seems reasonable to limit injection wells disposing of brine water from the oil and gas industry to industrially zoned areas of the township.

Likewise, a $10,000 fee charged by the township to a company before it begins an injection well or $2,000 before drilling for gas and oil is “not unreasonable,” Marchese said.

One reason is that a township may have costs associated with drilling activity, such as the time of police or maintenance personnel as a result of the activity.

What is unreasonable, Marchese said, is for people who have invested as much as $200,000 to $300,000 in a nice home in the country to have to put up with 24-hour truck traffic and other industrial side effects of an injection well.

“We have people moving because they have the threat of an injection well,” Marchese said.

So this month, the township zoning commission, in consultation with Marchese, established new fees.

It established a $10,000 fee for start-up of an injection well and increased the fee for starting a gas and oil drilling operation from $250 to $2,000.

Marchese said he didn’t feel the increased fees should present a problem for a gas and oil driller that could potentially make millions off of such a well.

The township has had a requirement since 2000 that injection wells be limited to the 1,500 acres of Johnston Township land near state Route 11 in the northwest part of the township, Marchese said.

Township trustees will have a public hearing on the proposed fees soon.

The problem is that what seems reasonable isn’t necessarily what is legal, Marchese admits.

In 2004, the Ohio Legislature gave the state control over the rules that govern gas and oil drilling, including injection wells, meaning the townships lost control to the state over where injection wells could be drilled.

Atty. Mark Finamore of Warren, who represents 58 townships (including Johnston) in four counties — Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana and Portage — said a prohibition on drilling, either for gas and oil extraction or brine disposal, can’t be enforced in court.

It’s the same message Youngstown’s law department gave Youngstown City Council after Councilwoman Janet Tarpley sought to ban injection wells in Youngstown.

“Under current Ohio law, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is authorized to regulate the oil and gas industry from permitting to plugging,” said Heidi Hetzel-Evans, an Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman. “ODNR has regulatory authority over production and disposal.”

The question of fees is more complicated, Finamore said, citing a decision in a case from Newbury Township that said townships retain the right to establish minimum setbacks between wells and houses.

Because of that case, the townships do retain the right to require fences be built to protect the public from wells; they have the right to require a sign be placed at the site telling public-safety forces who to contact in an emergency; and they do have the right to require well access roads to have an adequate base and width to accommodate emergency vehicles.

Finamore worked several months ago with Trumbull County Highway Engineer Randy Smith to establish a standard Road Use Maintenance Agreement that covers most issues a township may want to address with a gas and oil company.

Based on that, Finamore has provided to townships that have expressed interest a four-page model zoning amendment that calls for a drilling company to register with the township and provide certain information.

The amendment calls for drillers to maintain a setback of 500 feet from a private residence, for instance.

Finamore said drilling companies may be willing to go along with Johnston Township’s new fees to be a good neighbor, even though the fees and requirements are not enforceable.

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