In a move designed to increase safety in oil and gas drilling, a state senator from Boardman has proposed doubling the distance gas and oil wells must be from homes.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-33rd, introduced Senate Bill 378 to require that a well or tank battery for a well be constructed at least 300 feet from any occupied home. The current requirement is 150 feet.
The current requirement was put in place when most wells being drilled were the smaller Clinton wells, Schiavoni said. The concern with larger horizontal wells is that any incident could be much bigger.
“I think this is just common-sense legislation,” he said. “These companies are going to continue drilling in rural areas as long as possible, but they will eventually start moving in closer to residential areas.”
This area needs the economic development that is expected to come with oil and gas development, but any drilling that is going to occur must be done safely, Schiavoni said.
State Sen. Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd, said she has supported extending setbacks from residences for some time.
“But the biggest risk and concerns that residents in Trumbull and Ashtabula counties along with other residents of Northeast Ohio have is safety relating to disposal wells,” she said.
Schiavoni said he studied the issue and worked with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to determine that 300 feet would be a reasonable setback requirement.
“As the number of signed oil and gas leases continues to grow, it is critical that our state takes proactive measures regarding the safety of homeowners,” Schiavoni said. “This legislation would give an added level of protection to ensure that there is an adequate distance between a well and a home.”
He hopes the bill is approved quickly. It would serve as a de facto ban on any type of drilling within more populated areas such as Boardman Township, said Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.
“For decades, the setback standard was 100 feet. There’s never been any proof as to why that distance isn’t enough,” Stewart said. “But people think if 100 feet is good, then 200 or 300 feet would be better.”
Stewart said he understands Schiavoni’s concern if the setback solely related to horizontally drilled wells.
No operators want to put a horizontal well within 150 feet of a residence, Stewart said.
Setbacks are designed to provide a safe distance between drilling operations and residences. No information shows 300 feet is any safer than the current requirements, he said.
“In 2010, the Northeast Ohio Gas Accountability Project attempted to have 600-foot setbacks put into the law,” Stewart said. “The goal was to create an effective ban for drilling in the state. We were able to prove that with some maps and elementary geometry.”
The bill contains one exception — a well or tank battery for a well could be within 150 feet of a residence if the resident signs a waiver allowing it and the chief of ODNR approves.