By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Dozens of Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) members logged in to a membership-only Web meeting last month to get the latest information about oil and gas leasing and exploration in the state.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses sand, water and chemicals injected at high pressures to blast open shale rock and release the trapped gas inside. This popular and controversial means of energy extraction began in New York and Pennsylvania and is making its way into eastern Ohio.
With fracking such a hot topic among rural landowners, Farm Bureau members bombarded the webinar panel with questions to learn the latest in the oil and gas proceedings.
The forum’s host was Dale Arnold, OFB director of energy policy. He was joined by attorney J. Richard Emens and Rick Simmers, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Oil and Gas Division chief.
Right from the start, many participants wanted to know if they had to allow pipeline developers access to their property.
“The answer, under both federal and state law, is yes,” Emens said, noting the first step is always to look at the property, draw lines on a map and do an environmental survey.
“But remember,” he added, “they have the right to access your property to do the initial survey, but you have the ability to schedule a time and you have the right to be there or to have a representative of your family there.”
According to Arnold, such rights of the landowners allow them to point out specific areas that concern them – perhaps a route the surveyors are looking at would go through a high-erosion area or an area of historical significance.
Several OFB members had concerns about eminent domain. “Eminent domain guarantees the pipeline companies access to a property,” Arnold said, “but that’s all it gives. Everything else is highly negotiable.”
Arnold said details such as the depth of the pipeline, how soil will be treated, site remediation and compensation should all be part of the agreement. He also advised easements should be created for each individual piece of property, should stipulate that each agreement covers just one particular project and, in the event the pipeline is ever abandoned, that all rights revert to the original landowner.
He advised listeners to demand a detailed map showing what the pipeline company is going to do and where before they sign. “Don’t sign anything until your attorney looks at it,” Arnold said. “Avoid blanket language; you want it detailed. Negotiation is key. Your business partner is going to give you a first offer. Do you always take the first offer? No.”
Much talk about fracking led to talk about the release of radioactive material, and that concerned many callers.
“The radioactive material that’s associated with oil and gas injection operation is sometimes referred to as naturally occurring radioactive material, or NORM,” Simmers said.
“Radioactive particles are naturally occurring with any type of underground injection. There are checks and balances. The department of health regulates NORM and all radioactive issues.”
Simmers claimed tests back up his statements. “The Ohio Department of Health has gone out and done tests on locations,” he said. “They’ve looked at cuttings, looked at fluids and after tests they’ve found there are very, very low levels of these NORM materials.
“They have certain action levels which are established by the federal government and reflected by state law. The OD of Health has found that these action levels are not being exceeded.”
Arnold fielded concerns about pipeline land leasing and installation issues. He warned folks to be extremely careful before signing any gas lease.
“The rules change depending on whether a particular pipeline is considered interstate or intrastate, or if it’s merely a collection line,” he explained.
Arnold said the governing body for interstate pipelines falls under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, while intrastate lines are overseen by the Public Utilities Commission and Ohio Power Siting Board. Collection lines, he added, are in the ODNR jurisdiction.