The Ohio Supreme Court rules that regulating oil and gas drilling is up to the state, not local authorities
In a 4-3 decision with three written dissents, the Ohio Supreme Court has decided that certain local zoning laws aimed at limiting hydraulic fracturing cannot be used to circumvent state’s authority over oil and gas drilling. The court said that the home rule clause of Ohio’s constitution does not allow a municipality to block drilling activities otherwise permitted by the state.
A 2004 law gave “sole and exclusive authority” to the state to regulate permitting for oil and gas drilling operations, reports Court News Ohio. In 2011, Beck Energy obtained a state permit to drill an oil and gas well on private property in Munroe Falls. Once drilling began, the city asked the county court to permanently stop the work, alleging that the company was violating several local laws that gave the local government the power to interfere by means of zone construction or excavation, mandate a waiting period, impose a fee and a bond deposit and provide for public hearing, among other provisions.
The Ohio Supreme Court decided that the Ohio Constitution gives municipalities the power of local self-government as long as their ordinances do not conflict with general state laws. By trying to restrict drilling that the state had previously permitted, the court decided that the local government overstepped its authority.
According to lead opinion, written by Justice Judith L. French, the state “to the exclusion of local governments, [has] the right to regulate ‘all aspects’ of the location, drilling, and operation of oil and gas wells, including ‘permitting relating to those activities.’”
Justice Terrence O’Donnell opted to concur on the opinion in judgment only, leaving the reasoning behind the decision at a 3-1-3 vote. Tom Houlihan, a Munroe Falls attorney, said this leaves the legal precedent open to interpretation in the future. “None of the reasons got a majority of votes, which could be carefully read by future courts that there’s still a role for local zoning in the oil and gas field,” he said.
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