By Jamison Cocklin
The Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, which oversees the Meander Reservoir, has obtained legal counsel to protect the drinking water source for more than 200,000 people in Youngstown, Niles and several townships from oil and gas drilling.
In a letter obtained by The Vindicator — sent to the Committee for the Community Bill of Rights last week after it filed a public-records request — one of MVSD’s attorneys said Houston-based Halcon Resources Corp. had obtained 5,000 acres of deep mineral rights on the district’s property last year.
That attorney, Thomas J. Wilson of Comstock, Springer & Wilson in Youngstown, wrote in the letter that Halcon officials met with MVSD representatives in July to detail a plan that called for constructing a well pad on property adjacent to that owned by the district.
“From this well pad, Halcon intended to drill horizontal wells as part of a 640-acre drilling unit extending 7,000 feet vertically and then 7,000 [feet] horizontally to access the [Utica-Point Pleasant] Shale formation lying below the district’s property, including the reservoir,” the letter read.
Attempts on Thursday to contact Wilson were unsuccessful.
But Matthew J. Blair, MVSD board president, said discussions about plans to drill near the reservoir — and to an extent under it — did occur.
“There had been discussion to do that, but they don’t have permits,” Blair said. “I don’t anticipate that they will apply for permits to drill under the reservoir.”
In fact, Blair said he doesn’t believe Halcon will drill anywhere near the reservoir. He added that the board retained counsel to prevent Halcon from drilling on, or under, the property should it eventually decide to do so.
A spokesman for Halcon said Thursday he was working on crafting a response.
The 5,000 acres in question were first obtained in 1972 by Penn Industrial Energy Corp. In 1976, General Motors Corp. purchased the acreage and drilled a single vertical well with the lease. When GM proposed a second well, the district refused any future drilling, according to details included in Wilson’s letter.
At that point, GM filed suit in federal district court in Youngstown, asking a judge to decide on the matter and allow it to go forward with drilling there. The district court ordered MVSD to stop withholding the approval of drilling, and MVSD appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
The high court overturned the trial court’s ruling and determined that the terms of the lease allowed the MVSD to determine when, or if, future drilling could occur.
Today, Wilson believes that the ruling will ensure MVSD can prevent Halcon from drilling on, or under, the reservoir if it tries to go forward with such a plan.
“We’ll be keeping the pressure on. [MVSD] doesn’t want any drilling under the lake or in the watershed,” said Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of FrackFree Mahoning Valley and a former member of the Committee for the Community Bill of Rights, which is leading a second ballot initiative to ban fracking in Youngstown. “I’m glad to see [MVSD] has taken a stance and they’re looking into this.”
Drilling near the Meander Reservoir has been a point of contention for some time now. Earlier this year a group of citizens, including members of FrackFree, were outraged after learning that a well in Jackson Township, operated by Pennsylvania-based Consol Energy, was compromised when its protective casing split and left a 4-foot vertical crack near the surface.
Members were told by state regulators that the well was fixed quickly and never posed a threat, but that information did little to pacify their concerns because the well was within three miles of the reservoir.
Moreover, MVSD officials said Consol’s well was easily within the water source’s drainage basin — after state regulators said it was not.
Halcon has just two other permitted wells in Mahoning County — both in Jackson Township. It’s unclear where the company proposed the well pad in question when it met with MVSD officials in July.
The company also has an additional seven permits, all of which are in Trumbull County. Two of those were issued just last week at the Kibler site in Lordstown.
That move likely will rankle some of the more than 700 people living in close proximity to the Kibler in Westwood Lake Mobile Home Park.
Two wells already have been drilled there, and the company has planned for some time to drill more. During previous drilling, some residents living within a few hundred feet of the well pad complained of noise, fumes and safety concerns.