Much of the discussion about oil and gas production in Ohio has focused on hydraulic fracturing used to facilitate production. But fracking, as it’s often called, is only part of the process that takes the oil and gas from the ground to consumers.
“The wells are just one part of the overall industry. You can drill a well and be prepared to produce gas and natural gas liquids, but these materials have no place to go until you have a pipeline and processing facilities,” says Scott Doran, director, Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter Co., L.P.A.
Smart Business spoke with Doran about the various stages in the production of oil and gas, and the permits and regulations that govern them.
What permits are required for oil and gas production operations?
In addition to the drilling permits, you generally need permits for the pipelines that will take the gas from the well pad to collection and processing points. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) manages drilling permits; The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has authority to issue air permits. The Ohio EPA, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and other agencies are involved in pipeline projects. Construction of the pipeline may necessitate impacts to streams or wetlands, and you have to consider historical preservation and endangered species issues.
You have to delineate every resource along the expected path of the pipeline, which means sending engineers or field personnel to identify streams, wetlands, historic properties and potential endangered species habitats. Of course, that also involves getting easements and permission from landowners. Those field people prepare voluminous reports, and you identify the best path for the pipeline that achieves project objectives while avoiding as many resources as possible.
If a project does impact streams or wetlands, you can apply for and obtain a permit authorizing the project, but you also have to mitigate those impacts by restoring the streams or wetlands at the site or somewhere else, or buying wetlands mitigation credits. It’s expensive, but there are a number of mitigation options to compensate for these unavoidable impacts.
Why are air permits needed?
Air emission of certain natural gas occurs during the drilling process, and the U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA have established strict permitting requirements regarding how to manage emissions during and after drilling. After drilling, there are emissions associated with the transfer and storage of materials.
It used to be that companies commonly flared off excess gas — they didn’t want to or were not able to manage the gas, so they would burn it. New permit requirements are being phased in that will require the capture of that gas.
What is required regarding wastewater collected from drilling operations?
In Ohio, a regulatory decision was made that the wastewater associated with oil and gas exploration and production is to be injected into permitted disposal wells. These disposal wells are generally off-site and operated by disposal companies that collect waste from tanks at the well pad. They’re injecting the waste 10,000 feet into the ground in porous rock, where it is designed to remain.
Drillers and wastewater treatment companies are working very hard to demonstrate effective mechanisms to treat and recycle that water, because millions of gallons are used for every well and fresh water is very valuable.
Do you expect regulations to change as the industry expands its operations here?
Regulations will undoubtedly continue to evolve, but the basic structure is in place. There is every indication that companies are continuing to make substantial infrastructure investments in Ohio, and there is a regulatory program that is overarching and impacts every step of the process.
This industry is going to have an environmental impact, but it can be done in a very responsible manner. Economically, it will be a good thing for the state. There will be some trials and tribulations along the way, but overall Ohio is doing a nice job to ensure a very substantial long-term benefit while protecting environmental resources in Ohio.
Scott Doran is a director at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter Co., L.P.A. Reach him at (614) 462-5412 or email@example.com.
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By some estimates, oil and gas wells will be pumping $30 billion into Ohio’s economy in 2015, creating 200,000 jobs. All that money and activity also promises to keep attorneys busy.
“Companies are still feeling things out. So far, there have been about 500 permits issued and there are only about 80 producing wells. But 101 permits were issued in March alone. There will be a lot more drilling this year,” says Michael Schottenstein, an associate with Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter.
As companies look to start drilling, property owners with leases signed when offers were lower want to renegotiate more favorable terms. And some communities continue to fight to keep hydraulic fracturing of shale rock formations, a process also known as fracking, from taking place within their borders.
Smart Business spoke with Schottenstein about current legislation and the outlook for oil and gas well production in Ohio.
What’s the status of potential fracking bans?
In a recent case in the 9th District Court of Appeals, State ex rel. Morrison v. Beck Energy, the court said Ohio Revised Code section 1509.02 gives the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mineral Resources Management, exclusive authority over drilling permits, pre-empting local ordinances. Municipalities can regulate things like excavation and right-of-way usage and construction, but have no authority when it comes to drilling.
However, there are still municipalities discussing bans. The city of Munroe Falls has appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court and asked the court to weigh in on the issue, but the court has not said yet whether it will take the case. It’s unlikely municipalities will be able to impose outright bans.
What are some other legal developments?
The natural gas severance tax increase Gov. John Kasich proposed in his new budget is significant. Drilling companies and other industry players have been trying to stop it because they say it would discourage drilling. The industry may have won the fight for now, though. The budget plan the Ohio House Republicans recently put forward left the severance tax where it is. It’s still possible it could get passed if the Ohio Senate makes some changes, but it is unlikely.
Another development involves a line of cases dealing with lease terms and whether perpetual leases are void as being against public policy in Ohio. In Monroe County, a judge in the case of Hupp v. Beck Energy essentially said that public policy in Ohio so disfavors perpetual leases that any oil and gas lease that allows drilling companies the right to extend the lease indefinitely by paying delay rentals without an obligation to actually drill are void as against public policy.
There’s also a federal case from the Southern District of Ohio in which the decision says state law disfavors perpetual leases and will interpret them not to be perpetual when possible, but did not say they are actually void.
These are important cases because a lot of landowners are trying to find ways to get out of leases signed when companies were paying a lot less for them.
What are leases going for now?
Royalty percentages had historically been about 12.5 percent for the landowner, but we’re seeing some up to 20 percent. Reports out of eastern Ohio are that some companies are offering bonus payments of $5,000 to $10,000 an acre. Those who entered into a lease 20 years ago, got a small bonus payment and now get a royalty check for $10 a month, are trying to get a better deal.
Oil and gas leases typically provide for a period of one to five years during which companies can explore to see if there’s oil and gas on the property. Leases also usually have a clause that the lease continues as long as oil or gas is produced in paying quantities, which can be an issue if drilling was interrupted for some reason.
Are their other issues on the horizon?
One major concern is waste disposal. Fracking produces waste, called brine, and it can’t just be put it back into the water system. Because this liquid would pollute the water table, drilling and disposal has to be done right and companies must take necessary precautions. A company near Youngstown was recently indicted for dumping brine into the Mahoning River, but if companies don’t cut any corners, our water should be safe. Still, expect more litigation, legislation and regulations involving waste disposal in the future.
Michael Schottenstein is an associate at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. Reach him at (614) 462-5451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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