A proposal by State Rep.
Bob Hagan that would restore local control over regulating oil and gas wells probably has little chance of passage during the Ohio Legislature's lameduck session, but the measure is a good response to legitimate concerns being raised about the impact of drilling in areas that are most likely to be affected by it, including Portage County.
Counties, townships and local governments had the power to regulate drilling through zoning and other land use limitations until eight years ago, when authority was switched to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which set statewide standards and regulations. At the time, concerns about the effect of hydraulic fracturing -- commonly known as fracking -- on health, safety and the overall environment weren't as imperative as they are now.
With Ohio at the epicenter of the drilling boom, which Gov. John Kasich and his allies view an economic bonanza for the Buckeye State, concerns about drilling have risen. Those who have raised questions about regulating drilling at the local level have generally gotten the response that control lies with the state, and that the hands of local authorities are tied because of this. That response is of little comfort to homeowners in areas where fracking has taken place who have had to deal with excessive noise, increased traffic and damage to their homes. Concerns about possible contamination of water sources -- a very real issue for those in rural areas who rely on well water -- also remain unaddressed. Pleas for local safeguards have largely fallen on deaf ears.
Hagan, in remarks to the Ohio House Agriculture Committee, noted that "numerous localities" across Ohio have appealed for a return to local control over drilling because of increased oil and gas exploration in highly populated areas, including cities that previously were able to restrict drilling through zoning regulations. "This legislation will provide freedom to communities, not unelected bureaucrats, to decide what is best for them and their families," he said.
His proposal would enable local governments to set standards for oil and gas wells as long as they are not less restrictive than state laws and rules. It also would triple the setback regulation for new wells, requiring a 1,000-foot setback, which could be a significant safeguard in highly developed areas.
Those who ordinarily question vesting "big government" with powers to impose regulations on local communities have been strangely silent on drilling regulations in Ohio. The measure Rep. Hagan has put forth offers a reasonable remedy that would return the power to control local land use to those most directly affected by it. With only a few weeks left in the current legislative session, it is unlikely that it will be enacted. We hope that it is revived, and given serious consideration, when the Legislature reconvenes in January.