A few weeks ago I wrote about the need for thoughtful discernment in the legislative process with respect to current law and proposed legislation. Once more I return to this theme as it relates to the application of American Energy Inc. for an injection well within the City of Conneaut. In addition, another application for an injection well (this one in Windsor Township) has been filed with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), which would raise the total of injection wells from 15 to 17 just in Ashtabula County.
First, we must acknowledge that “Home Rule” — the ability for a local government entity to deny an application for an injection well — was lost in 2004 with the passage of H.B. 278, which gave “sole and exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location, and spacing of oil and gas wells” to ODNR. Though Munroe Falls is challenging the constitutionality of H.B. 278 in a case before the Ohio Supreme Court, it is doubtful that home rule will be restored given the composition of the court. Therefore, try as they might, Conneaut city council, the Windsor township trustees, or even the Ashtabula County Commissioners will not be able to stop ODNR from awarding a permit for an injection well. Again, this is a hard look — not a sugar-coated version — of current law.
Secondly, we must also acknowledge the current composition of the state legislature. Republicans control the Senate (23-10) and the House (60-39). Given the reality of generous campaign contributions by the oil and gas industry to the party in power, it is highly unlikely that any legislation to overturn H.B. 278 will generate any traction. Finally, it is also just as unlikely that the governor will initiate such a plan for the same reason. The point is, given the realities of the political landscape in Columbus, ODNR will continue to hold sole discretion over permitting injection wells.
Thirdly, we must acknowledge the fact that we are all energy dependent. We heat with natural gas, we enjoy the benefits of plastic products derived from “wet gas,” and we certainly have grown accustomed to the luxury of travelling in automobiles powered by gasoline. Historically, the United States was an exporter of petroleum until 1948. After that, and until 2012, we imported more petroleum and its byproducts than we exported. From an international political vantage point, energy independence is to be preferred when compared to the realities of our historical entanglement in Middle Eastern politics after WWII to secure sufficient energy needed for a modern economy. In short, our very lifestyle is predicated upon the reliance of cheap and abundant oil and gas.
Here is where discernment is needed. If we admit that we require oil and gas and their byproducts for everyday life, then it follows that we must continue to explore and drill for these resources and, ultimately, dispose of the wastes from such activities. Thus the key is to balance our need for oil and gas with the need to preserve our environment. Once more, this is a hard look at the realities we face.
What are we to do to achieve balance? Progress and preservation have been at odds since the dawn of time, but the struggle is exacerbated by the sheer number of people on the planet coupled with the dynamics of modern technology.
It is into this conundrum that I will be submitting legislation with respect to injection wells. If enacted, here are the most crucial components:
- Increase public notice requirements and require a public hearing before a permit is granted;
- A device to monitor well pressure must be installed on all injection wells and monitored at all times by ODNR so that a well can be shut down, immediately, if need be;
- Require ground water monitoring before and after an injection well is drilled; and
- A chemical “tracer” will be added to the wastewater to track any fluid migration.
I cannot guarantee that this legislation will pass. However, I can guarantee that as your elected official, I will continue to practice discernment and, in doing so, attempt to balance the need to produce cheap and abundant energy with the need to preserve our precious and irreplaceable environment. This is my pledge to you, the good citizens of the 99th District.