Bainbridge, Ohio: feckless regulators can do nothing about reckless drillers


More than 100 people crammed into an overflowing meeting room at the Federated Church Tuesday to hear what the state was going to do about problems created by oil and gas well drillers.

Sean Logan, the Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s director, had few answers to calm fears. He failed to satisfy the concerns of more than 40 residents whose water wells were damaged by an English Drive gas well drilled in December 2007 that blew one house off of its foundation.

It was for these residents that he called the meeting.

In addition to Bainbridge residents, fire chiefs, public officials and residents came from neighboring communities and as far away as Highland Heights, Broadview Heights and Twin Lakes.

They wanted to see how the state responds to gas well accidents because they face new wells in their own communities.

Logan had no answer for Niki Kakoleck of Scotland Drive.

“What is the state going to do for me and my family?” she asked point-blank.

“I tried to refinance my house today and the bank told me my house has no value,” she continued. “My husband and I paid $180,000 for it before the gas well blew up. Now it has no value. I have to pay an attorney now on top of it.
“We’re on the verge of bankruptcy. I hired a sitter to watch my nine-year-old and 11-year-old so I could come here and hear what you are going to do.”

When Logan repeated that he was ordering a new municipal water line, she cut him off.

“This sucks,” she said. “You guys dropped the ball for me and my family.

Life in a hotel
“You don’t understand what we’ve been through. I had to live in a hotel for a week before Christmas with my kids and two dogs when the gas well blew up. My electric fence I paid a couple thousand dollars for was ruined by your temporary water line.

“The water delivery trucks have ruined my driveway — it’s all cracked now. I have to leave my garage door open two days a week and let strangers come and go in my house to fill the temporary water tank. I worry about the safety of my kids.

“The temporary water line freezes in the winter right in the middle of giving my kids a shower — it stopped. I had to wash soap from them with freezing cold water. I didn’t sign up for the gas well. I’m not getting any royalties from it. What are you going to do for me?”

Lou Wagner of Scotland Drive said he is more concerned about safety than the water line, which Logan said last week that the ODNR would install because drilling has fouled water wells.

“What’s going on with the trapped gas underground?” he asked. “Is it going to seep into my basement and blow up my house? We’re living on a minefield. Even if we had good water you can’t drink it if you’re dead.”

Logan replied that the gas is venting underground.

“Yes, it is — it’s venting into the aquifer,” a woman said as the crowd roared in laughter.

‘No evidence’
Logan said he does not have evidence that the gas is continuing to flow into the aquifer.

“But, you don’t have evidence that it’s not,” said another resident.

Although Logan said, “The buck stops here with me,” he placed most of the blame on the driller, Ohio Valley Energy for not moving fast enough to install a municipal water line.

He called OVE’s actions “egregious” and repeated his pledge of last week to order OVE to install the water line to the homes considered to be affected by the faulty gas well.

Several residents asked how they could find out if their home was among those deemed affected and entitled to the proposed water line. They did not receive a clear answer.

When asked when the water line would be installed, Logan said he would give OVE 15 days to submit a plan.

Last week Jerry Morgan of Geauga County Water Resources Department told Sun News he has seen plans for the waterline from OVE’s engineering firm, but it could take months to get it approved through the county and the Ohio EPA before digging could begin.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Logan told residents the delay was with OVE.

Who’s to blame?
An insider told Sun News that state and county officials — not OVE –may be to blame for holding up progress on the waterline.

Last week OVE’s president Charlie Masters told Sun News that his company has been trying to bring in the water line since February 2008, but has met with resistance.

Tuesday night, Logan said his technical staff would examine independent laboratory reports on the “black goo” that is showing up in well water where gas wells have been drilled and fracted [sic].

This is a change from his stance April 7 when he said, “It seems to be naturally occurring in Geauga County water.”

At that time, he further stated “It’s well documented that there are problems with well water in Geauga County.”

County officials refuted that statement.

Loud boos
Logan pledged that he would push the envelope of the law to make OVE pay for monthly water bills homeowners would face with a municipal water line.

He was booed when he said although his department issues permits, it has no authority to slow down the drilling by slowing down the number of permits it issues.

He admitted that his department is understaffed and does not have enough inspectors to inspect new wells as they are being drilled, although current rules call for the inspections.

He further said his department does not have the authority to refuse a permit to OVE or any other driller that is caught using faulty practices.

“But you’re the only one who does have control over drillers,” a woman said. “We’re the people, and it’s time you stood up for we the people and stopped standing up for the gas industry.”

“You should just step up,” a man shouted.

Logan said he is working on legislation to change current laws.

State Sen. Tim Grendell and Rep. Matt Dolan attended the meeting.

Grendell told the crowd that he is working on legislation to bring back local control of gas well drilling, while Logan is working with the oil and gas well industry on his proposed legislation.

Attorney Dale Markowitz thanked Logan for meeting with residents. Markowitz also told Logan, “You’re on your last leg.”

Markowitz is representing the 40 residents and Bainbridge Township in their lawsuit against the driller and ODNR.

Dolan declined a resident’s request to speak at the meeting.