Ohio’s oil and gas law, Chapter 1509 of Ohio Revised Code(ORC), was established in 1965. In 1982 Ohio’s Safe Drinking Water Act, Underground Injection (UIC) Program was approved by U.S. EPA giving Ohio primacy for establishing requirements for the permit issuance, well construction, monitoring and reporting for conventional brine injection wells, enhanced recovery projects and the annular disposal of brine. Around the same time when it was discovered much pollution was resulting from oil and gas waste products a grassroots effort was formed by Shirley Sinn and citizens with contaminated water wells in Perry, OH. These Ohioans for Safe Water lobbied until Senate Bill 501 was enacted in 1985 as a more comprehensive brine control legislation.
In 1987, after an order by the Governor, it was determined by the State Oil and Gas Regulatory Review Commission that local governments, through adoption of fire codes and zoning resolutions, play a critical role in assuring the safety of citizens on oil and gas issues. This is due to the fact that the state regulatory authority (ODNR – Ohio Department of Natural Resources) is largely understaffed and thus conducts no routine well inspections. In 1988 there were around 100 oil and gas well inspectors. The average number of inspectors in other years up to and including today is between 20-30 to oversee over 275,000 oil and gas wells in Ohio.
In 1994, Senate Bill 182 transferred authority from Ohio EPA to the ODNR to promulgate Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) rules for exploration and production waste operations.
In 2004, heavy industry lobbying resulted in the enactment of House Bill 278 (commonly referred to as Ohio’s urban drilling law). This gave the ODNR “sole and exclusive authority” on oil and gas well permitting, locating and regulating. Local governments who were once able to require safety measures such as minimum setbacks or distances from wells to inhabited structures of around 700 feet for example, instead heeded to the statewide minimum, which is now only 150 feet.
As predicted, about two years after passage of HB 278 numerous health and safety issues arose. Once again a grassroots effort formed, this time by Kari Matsko after fugitive emissions of a gas drilling rig sickened the Lake County, OH neighborhood in 2006. The Bainbridge Township house explosion and associated water contamination of 20-40 wells in 2007 occurred soon after and was one of the most publicized.
An unforeseen consequence of HB 278 was one of property rights issues. Prior to 2004, forcing a landowner to give up the mineral rights to their property against their will (termed Mandatory Pooling in ORC 1509) was rarely to never leveraged. However, because drilling was now permissible anywhere in densely populated areas and 20 acres is required to gain a permit to drill 2000 to 4000 feet deep, energy companies were struggling to gather enough owners of smaller lots together to form a 20 acre pool. Thus some companies used the threat of mandatory pooling as a tactic to encourage reluctant property owners to sign. Many other property owners were successfully ‘mandatorily pooled’ by their neighbors and an energy company with the help of the ODNR.
With the guidance of the national nonprofit, Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), Kari Matsko and numerous other citizens whose property rights and basic health and safety rights were under siege established the Northeast Ohio Gas Accountability Project, NEOGAP (from 2008-2010) to unite and educate citizens and work toward reform.
From 2009 to 2010, along with Senator Grendell and Representative Skindell the citizens cowrote bills (HB 426 & SB 196) to improve numerous areas of ORC 1509. During this same time the ODNR was working with the industry on an agreement and a competing bill SB 165 which was heard by committees instead of the aforementioned public interest bills. SB 165 was enacted in 2010 with some amendments which were brought about as a result of numerous citizens testifying during committee hearings.
In 2011, the grassroots group NEOGAP became known as POGCO, to be more descriptive of the statewide participation on our continued original mission of sensible reform from the grassroots.