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Well owners win fight in Ohio Supreme Court

Remands decision to shut down site back to 11th District

The company that owns an injection well on state Route 169 in Weathersfield Township won a victory in Columbus on Wednesday in its bid to restart its operations.

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled 5-to-1 to remand the case brought by American Waste Management Services back to the 11th District Court of Appeals, which had ruled in March 2019 the state had a right to shut down the Weathersfield operation after a 2014 earthquake.

An injection well puts fluid deep underground into porous rock formations. The fluid may be water, wastewater, brine (salt water), or water mixed with chemicals.

In a 48-page decision, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and associate justices R. Patrick DeWine, Judith L. French, Sharon L. Kennedy and Melody Stewart sided with American Waste Management Services. Justice Michael P. Donnelly dissented, affirming the appellate court’s decision to uphold the decision by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to shut down the well operation.

The ruling agreed the company could pursue compensation caused by financial losses during the shutdown after a 2.1-magnitude earthquake on Dec. 31, 2014. The high court cited a clause in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that provides relief when government “takes” property.

Justices instructed the appellate court to reconsider the adverse economic impact caused by closing of the well. American Waste Management Services claimed to lose millions of dollars because of the state’s action.

In addition to the Dec. 31, 2014, earthquake, seismic events were measured in the vicinity of two AWMS wells in Weathersfield during the previous summer. The ODNR ordered the suspension of the larger well, which took 95 percent of the waste, according to court documents. The well taking the smaller amounts was allowed to keep operating, but that ended in 2015.

AWMS was ordered to come up with a written plan to resume operations at the well, but the state justices noted that ODNR either rejected or ignored any plans. According to documents, the company’s plan included limits on the speed, frequency and amounts of injections, and detailed monitoring protocols.

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