ODNR: No comment on injection well ruling; company filed other legal action

By Ed Runyan



The Ohio Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday declined to comment on what its next step will be after a decision Friday by a Franklin County judge ordering the agency to allow a Weathersfield Township injection well to reopen.

“ODNR’s legal team is reviewing the judge’s order to reopen the AWMS #2 well. ODNR does not comment on ongoing legal matters,” Eric Heis, ODNR spokesman, said in an emailed reply when asked whether the ODNR will appeal the ruling to an Ohio district appeals court.

The decision Friday by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Kimberly Cocroft ordered ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Management and the owner of the injection well, American Water Management Services, to submit a proposed judgment entry giving specifics of how the well will reopen.

The judge said she would have preferred that the two parties “work together and develop a comprehensive plan” for the restart, but that appears unlikely to work because of the “history of the parties’ relationship,” she said.

Judge Cocroft made her ruling in an appeal of a decision by the Columbus-based Ohio Oil and Gas Commission. The commission’s decision was an appeal of a decision by the director of the ODNR Division of Oil and Gas to shut down the well following small earthquakes in July and August 2014.

Judge Cocroft said the judgment entry will need to state a way for the company to limit the volume and pressure of oil and gas waste it injects deep underground at its facility initially and how it will incrementally increase the volume and pressure of the waste.

The injection well is on state Route 169 in Weathersfield just north of North Road in Niles. The AWMS is a subsidiary of Avalon Holdings of Howland.

Meanwhile, AWMS also filed a mandamus action in the Warren-based 11th District Court of Appeals in August arguing many of the same points as in the Franklin County case.

A mandamus action is used to compel someone, such as an officer or employee of the government, to act on an administrative matter.

In this case, AWMS filed the mandamus action asking that the ODNR be compelled to provide the company with “just compensation for [the state’s] unlawful taking” of “all economically viable use” of its $7 million injection well.

The filing, by attorneys Thomas Wilson and Matthew Vansuch, argues that the ODNR “took” the company’s injection-well property by ordering it to shut down and giving it no way of getting it back open for more than two years.

The ODNR’s reason for shutting down the well was because small earthquakes of 1.7 and 2.1 magnitude in 2014 indicated the possibility that larger ones might occur, the ODNR has said.

But such earthquakes cannot be felt by humans, “occur in Ohio virtually every day,” and only came to the attention of the public because of “more and more” devices to detect earthquakes, the filing said.

The filing seeks compensation for “damages” the company has incurred from the date the well was closed.

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