Fracking cannot be restricted by municipal ordinances, rules Ohio Supreme Court

The Ohio Supreme Court issued a contentious and anxiously-awaited decision yesterday regarding fracking in Ohio. The case before the Court involved a dispute between Beck Energy and the city of Munroe Falls that came about when the energy company wanted to drill an oil and gas well within city limits. The company had obtained a state permit, but when it began drilling, the city requested a judge to order the company to stop, saying that it did not comply with municipal ordinances regarding zoning and other issues. The trial court ordered Beck to stop drilling, but the Ninth District reversed on appeal.

In a 4-3 opinion penned by Justice French, the Ohio Supreme Court found that the city ordinances in this case conflicted with state laws giving “’sole and exclusive authority’ to regulate the permitting, location, and spacing of oil and gas wells and production operations within the state.” The Court held that while the Home Rule Amendment to the Ohio Constitution permits municipalities to adopt regulations and self-govern as long as those ordinances are not in conflict with general laws, the ordinances in question here did, in fact, conflict with O.R.C. 1509.02 and must yield to that statute.

The Court found that the Munroe Falls ordinances conflicted in two ways. The first was that “they prohibit what R.C. 1509.02 allows: state-licensed oil and gas production within Munroe Falls.” Justice French wrote that, “the ordinances and R.C. 1509.02 unambiguously regulate the same subject matter—oil and gas drilling—and they conflict in doing so,” and that, “Because Beck Energy obtained a valid state permit in accordance with R.C. Chapter 1509, the city cannot ‘extinguish privileges arising thereunder through the enforcement of zoning regulations.’”

The second conflict arose because the ordinance conflicted with the plain language of the statute, which “explicitly reserves for the state, to the exclusion of local governments, the right to regulate 'all aspects' of the location, drilling, and operation of oil and gas wells, including 'permitting relating to those activities.’” According to Justice French, because the law expressly prohibits the municipality from using its powers in a way that "discriminates against, unfairly impedes, or obstructs" the fracking operation, the laws and ordinances in this case cannot coexist. The Court emphasized that its ruling was limited to the five municipal ordinances at issue in this particular case, and that other ordinances may not conflict with the state laws regarding fracking.

Justices O’Connor and Kennedy concurred in the decision, and Justice O’Donnell concurred in judgment only. Justices Lanzinger, Pfeifer and O’Neill dissented.

For more information about this case, see these articles from Court News Ohio, and the Columbus Dispatch. The Court’s docket is available online, here.

Photo credit: Wikipedia user Joshua Doubek