High Court Ruling Limits Local Power Over Gas Drilling

A drilling rig
A drilling rig
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The court ruled the Summit County city of Munroe Falls overstepped its authority when it tried to restrict drilling by Ravenna-based Beck Energy.

The 4 to 3 ruling clarifies the balance of power between the state and local governments when it comes to regulating oil and gas production – in favor of the state.

"It’s a big win for industry," said Heidi Robertson, an environmental law professor at Cleveland State University. She said Ohio isn’t the only energy-boom state seeing this power struggle. The high courts of New York and Pennsylvania refereed similar conflicts when state legislatures trying to streamline development rules clashed with localities trying to control activity inside their borders.

"Communities did better in New York and Pennsylvania," Robertson said.

Munroe Falls said Beck Energy broke local laws when it failed to follow a city review process – including fees and a public hearing – before drilling. Beck argued the local rules were invalid because state law gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources “sole and exclusive authority” over siting oil and gas wells statewide.

The majority of the justices agreed with Beck. Justice Judith French wrote that Ohio law “explicitly reserves for the state, to the exclusion of local governments, the right to regulate all aspects of the location, drilling and operation of oil and gas wells,” and any permitting related to that.

Justice William O’Neill blasted the majority view in one of three dissenting opinions. He wrote, “What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive.”

The majority opinion says it doesn’t rule out the idea that some local ordinances might be permissible. But in knocking down Munroe Falls’, it also casts doubt on many others around the state.

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