An Ohio appellate court has ruled that some of Munroe Falls' own ordinances cannot be applied to an energy company that sought to drill a gas well in the city if they restrict actual drilling operations.
However, it upheld the notion that Beck Energy Corp. is required to follow local laws governing the way developers operate in the city.
On Feb. 6, the 9th District Ohio Court of Appeals reversed a 2011 ruling from Summit County Common Pleas Court that ultimately said Munroe Falls could oversee drilling activities in its territory. According to the appellate court ruling, Beck Energy is required to follow most of the city's rules governing developers and is required to obtain permits needed for excavation or to operate in public rights-of-way, but not ones that discriminate against actual oil or gas drilling operations.
At the heart of the case is whether local law supersedes or conflicts with state laws governing the operation of gas and oil wells -- which are entirely regulated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
"We know we cannot tell Beck Energy they're not permitted to drill a well," said Munroe Falls Law Director Jack Morrison Jr., "and we're not in the business of shutting down oil and gas drilling. But they're not allowed to come in and do whatever they please, whenever they please."
Beck Energy President David Beck did not respond to inquires for comment by press time Feb. 14. An employee said he was out of the office most of last week.
After Beck Energy initiated operations on a proposed well at 224 Munroe Ave. on March 30, 2011, by bringing in a bulldozer and employees, the city issued a stop-work order until zoning and building permits had been obtained -- items Morrison said the company had been made aware of by the city in writing.
He said Beck Energy has been "very uncooperative."
Morrison said Beck wanted to drive in heavy equipment, which requires a bond in case city roads are damaged.
The city asked the company to obtain a road-opening permit because Beck Energy was connecting the gas line to Munroe Falls Avenue. The city also needed a permit for crossing over the city's right-of-way to enter the property, among other requirements.
Morrison said the same permits are required of all developers.
While the city said Beck Energy needed to follow the related city ordinances, Morrison said the company reportedly believed that having an oil and gas permit by ODNR excludes the need for the company to acquire permits and zoning certificates from the city or pay the related application fees Munroe Falls charges developers to operate.
"They blatantly never filed for any permits, and that's why we followed up with a stop-work order," said Munroe Falls Mayor Frank Larson.
Beck told the Stow Sentry on March 31, 2011, the company had decided to file for the permits.
According to the city, the company did not file for a permit later on, and Morrison filed a complaint against the company with the Summit County Common Pleas on April 6, 2011.
"We're simply trying to get them to follow the ordinances we have in place," Morrison said.
Both Larson and Morrison said there has been no further correspondence with the company since the Feb. 6 court ruling. According to the court documents, the company's ODNR permit to drill off Munroe Avenue has expired.
Morrison said he believes the company may file an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court.
This isn't the first time Munroe Falls had issues with Beck Energy, Morrison said.
The two entities were in common pleas court after the company began drilling a well off North River Road at the Twin Falls United Methodist church about eight years ago for the same issues after Beck Energy did not obtain similar permits for work there.
Morrison said the court ultimately required the company to get the necessary permits and pay all court fees. He noted Beck Energy did not appeal that ruling.
While the courts have upheld that the city can enforce its own codes for drillers and developers, both Morrison and Larson said they're frustrated that cities don't have more local control over drilling operations in their territories.
"The state says they have some places they don't want oil and gas wells drilled, but communities don't have the same right," Larson said. "We can't regulate where we don't want them. So the state has stripped away our rights. If I were in the state legislature, I'd have a hard time agreeing to something like that."
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