Governor Releases Bill to Regulate Shale Gas Drilling and Wastewater Disposal

Right now there is no other topic in Ohio that generates more news coverage than horizontal gas drilling (or "fracking").   It seems a day doesn't go by without a new news story regarding fracking or related developments.

Ohio has seen oil & gas wells installed for well over a hundred years.  However, until recently huge deposits of natural gas in shale formations deep beneath the ground were not accessible.  Now, using new technology (i.e. fracking) those deposits can be tapped.  The implications for Ohio are certainly significant.

Along with the tremendous opportunity that access to the Utica Shale deposits present, come concerns regarding protecting the environment, including ground water resources. Many have said that Ohio's out dated oil & gas laws need to catch up with today's technology.

Senate Bill 315

In order to address these concerns, on March 22nd Governor Kasich released Ohio Senate Bill 315 (S.B. 315).  While the bill is dubbed an energy bill and does touch on other subjects, its principal focus is new regulation of horizontal gas well drilling.

The bill also attempts to increase regulations on deep well injection as a means of disposal of massive amounts of fracking wastewater and/or brine.  In the aftermath of the controversy as to whether disposal of fracking wastewater led to earthquake(s) in Northeast Ohio, the bill adds to the growing list of new regulations governing this method of disposal.

Major New Requirements in S.B. 315 Governing Horizontal Wells or "Fracking"

  • Creates a new oil & gas permit to be issued by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) for "horizontal wells:"
  • The new horizontal well permit application will require new information that the old oil & gas permit applications never addressed, including:
    • A $15,000 permit fee;
    • Road Use Maintenance Agreements-  will require the applicant to provide a copy of an agreement with local government(s) concerning maintenance of roads, streets, and highways;
    • Source Water Identification- must identify the ground water or surface water source for the production of the well.  This is requirement applies to horizontal well permits because they use millions of gallons of water;
    • Residential Well Sampling-  must show the sample results of all water wells within 1,500 feet of the proposed well prior to commencement of drilling;
    • Insurance Coverage-  must obtain $5 million in coverage for injury to persons or property.  Also, must include a "reasonable level" of coverage for any pollution or contamination that may occur as a result of the drilling, operation, or plugging of the owner's wells. (See discussion below regarding insurance)
    • Disclosure of fluids used in wells- one area of controversy associated with fracking is the use of chemicals along with the water during the drilling and fracking process.  Under the bill, the owner of the well will have to disclose all chemicals used and the amount used during service, operation, and plugging of the well.  These compounds will be posted on ODNR's web page.
    • Fresh Water Impoundments-  ONDR is given rule making authority to regulate location and construction of fresh water impoundments used in fracking.

Major New Requirements Governing Deep Well Injection

  • S.B. 315 increases disposal fees and includes new regulations governing oil & gas injections wells, including:
    • Doubles the fee for each barrel of substance generated locally that is disposed through deep well injection;
    • Raises the fee by five times the amount (20 cents to $1 dollar) for out of state substances shipped in for disposal in Ohio deep wells.  This is likely to address the concern Pennsylvania is shipping its wastewater associated with fracking to Ohio for disposal;
    • Increases the information that must be submitted by a brine/wastewater transporter to be properly certified by the State; and
    • Owner of deep well must obtain list from transporter of brine or wastewater generated through fracking a list of all chemical compounds.

Key Issue under S.B. 315:  How Much Environmental Insurance will be Required?

The philosophy of the bill seems to be requiring data collection prior to commencing the fracking process.  What data is being collected?  The current levels of contamination, if any, in existing residential wells within 1,500 feet prior to horizontal drilling.  Followed by disclosure of all the chemicals compounds used in the fracking process.  

The hope is that the information  (i.e. baseline record) could be used to determine if fracking contaminated groundwater or drinking water supplies.  Simply compare the old well samples to new sample, post fracking, and see if any of the disclosed chemical compounds are detected.

Assume it is demonstrated that contamination did occur as a result of fracking.  The bill requires a "reasonable level" of insurance coverage be provided for environmental contamination.  The determination of "reasonable" will be key issue.

It is likely (and would make good business sense) if you were an oil & gas driller to use the corporate form to try and limit liability if something goes wrong.  This means it is quite possible the only funds that may be available to address contamination will be insurance proceeds.    Therefore, how much insurance coverage is required will be a key issue. 

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