2016 Summary and 2017 Actions:
The RCOG was charged in December, 2015 with five work objectives for 2016:
- Publicize the RCOG Report findings
- Develop language for model ordinances in the areas of noise, lighting, traffic and environment
- Develop language for model conservation easement, deed restrictions, and neighborhood contracts
- Develop and implement a plan involving as many Northeast Ohio communities as possible to influence the Ohio legislature regarding issues and recommendations listed in this report
- Collaborate regionally to obtain funding for the purchase and sharing of water and air monitoring equipment and to develop the technical procedures to ensure effective monitoring
During its year-end meeting on December 6, 2016, the RCOG agreed that the most effective approach going forward into 2017 is to summarize and distribute the draft ordinances, deed restrictions, easement and private property contracts/agreements researched and collected by the RCOG in 2016. These materials, along with a copy of the RCOG Report – 2015 and Executive Summary would be distributed to the elected local, regional, and state officials in the region by March 2017. A PowerPoint presentation will augment the Report. Members of the RCOG would be available for feedback and questions from communities, but do not plan to make presentations to local communities.
In the cover letter to each governing body in the region, communities will be encouraged to draft and pass legislation, including ordinances, through their own governance body. Each community, in fact, has to follow its own legal due process. The RCOG Report itself will provide each governmental unit with the background context for considering such measures.
For example, tree ordinances, hillside protection, water courses protection and parks planning all are linked concepts in the RCOG Report and should support each other to reflect an overall philosophy of conservation in a community. Similarly, safety ordinances like road usage, sound, and light limitations are part of an overall community protection plan.
With regard to the passage of such ordinances, publication/promotion of the ordinances and consistent compliance enforcement are also required for successful implementation of such legislation. Notification of zoning regulations needs to be effectively communicated to contractors, homeowners, real estate companies, etc., as some failures or violations are not easily repairable after an event. A good example is illegal tree cutting. Consistent enforcement is a key factor to successful legal action, should such be required.
Specific to drilling activity, The Ohio Revised Code (ORC) provides for essentially all regulation of drilling from permitting to safety concerns to be controlled directly by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Disputes and claims of violation from communities and citizens anywhere in Ohio must be followed in the courts in order to effectively inform, craft, and lobby strategies for protecting a community’s overall conservation plans, which perception can be in conflict with ODNR actions.
Separate from community legislation are private contracts, such as conservancy easements, leases, contracts that could be drafted and executed between private parties, creating their own regulations or limitations. These private agreements, created by the parties for their own purposes, may act as ‘devil strips’, effectively deterring anyone to assemble sufficient acreage to allow drilling. The very process of private parties reaching agreement may also allow challenges to be made in federal court under the contract clause of the Constitution.
Under current law, the voluntary formation of a drilling unit requires the consent of the owners of at least 65% of the land to be included in the drilling unit. If the owners of more than 35% of the land to be included in the drilling unit do not consent to the inclusion of the land in the drilling unit, then the drilling unit cannot be voluntarily formed. Deed restrictions, easements and private contracts/ agreements can be used to obtain a consensus of the owners of more than 35% of the land so as to preclude the voluntary formation of the drilling unit. Of course, the land area that is sought to be protected must be pre-defined in order to identify the landowners and obtain the signature of the owners of more than 35% of the land on the document.
In the absence of obtaining a consensus of the owners of more than 35% of the land as described above, it is unlikely that deed restrictions, easements and/or private contracts/agreements can successfully prevent compelled inclusion of land as part of a drilling unit, that is, forced unitization. Moreover, if the formation of a drilling unit for oil and gas drilling is determined to be a public use, it is unlikely that deed restrictions, easements and/or private contracts/agreements will prevent the taking of the land for public use by eminent domain/appropriation proceedings regardless of the fact that owners of more than 35% of the land oppose the formation of the drilling unit.
In the Appendix of the RCOG Summary Report (an addendum for 2016) are samples of ordinances. They address approaches to good government outcomes. Also included is a list of expert contacts and organizations from which additional information and support can be requested.
Any future actions of the RCOG will be considered after the above tasks are completed by March 2017. Going forward into 2017, the RCOG could engage in the following, but no future direction(s) will be considered without the full support of the RCOG Commissioners.
- Monitor legal developments, create linkages to other interested parties, and consider actions communities might take in Ohio courts.
- Pursue an effort to make the whole Chagrin Valley the first Scenic River Valley designation in Ohio. As part of that program to join with other environmental organizations, i.e. CMNH, WRLC, CRWP, Metroparks to catalogue the rare and endangered species in the Valley, and then publicize the potential risk to disturbing the unique conditions in the Chagrin Valley (see recent issue concerning bat populations, critical for managing inset populations, including mosquitoes, raised by others).
- Extend efforts to lobby at a regional and state level.
- Encourage collaboration among communities for water and air monitoring, and start pilot monitoring projects at a level commensurate with resources available as platform for combined cooperation.
Sandra Turner, Ph.D., Regional Commission Co-Chair
The contents of this website represent the compilation of ideas, discussions, and ultimately recommendations from a group of scientists, engineers, constitutional law attorneys, elected officials, business leaders, environmental activists, and citizens residing in Northeast Ohio. This group came together in 2015 out of concern for the health, safety and welfare of the region’s residents in relation to the extraction of hydrocarbons in this area. We invite you to explore this site by using the menu at the top of the home page or by referring to Quick Links found along the side of each page.
If you have comments or questions, please reach out to the Regional Commission through "Contact Us", or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org