NORTH ROYALTON – City officials have succeeded in convincing the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to delay a hearing and decision on the mandatory drilling pool Cutter Oil is proposing, which involves 1.9 acres of city streets and two homeowners.
Prior to the council vote May 21 where members unanimously voted down the use of city streets in the drilling unit and even prior to the council’s own May 14 public hearing on the matter, Cutter had already filed to force pool the community for this particular well in the Planets subdivision.
The city appealed the pooling and was to testify before the ODNR’s technical advisory committee May 14.
Mayor Bob Stefanik, Law Director Tom Kelly and Council President Larry Antoskiewicz made the trek to Columbus and explained to the committee that due process had not been completed because the public hearing had not been conducted and council hadn’t yet voted on the well agreement at the time.
The ODNR committee agreed. It scheduled another hearing for Aug. 13.
City officials stand in opposition
Every councilman nixed this well agreement this week and has publicly expressed disdain with the situation and with Cutter Oil. In fact, most councilmen are now opposed to urban drilling altogether citing concern for residents’ health, safety and property values. Even Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris, who has been unopposed to drilling in the past, has spoken out.
City officials feel an appeal to the ODNR is typically futile at best, so they did not hold much hope about their efforts in Columbus.
Kelly said before the trip that the ODNR is simply for drilling in Ohio, so the odds are stacked against the city, any city, on the issue.
Some residents believe that the city can do something when it comes to wells, but it cannot. There are no laws, no rules, no ordinances that the city can enact to stop this. All regulation and governing was taken away from municipalities and given to the ODNR.
“We are creatures of the state and must bow to the state law,” Kelly explained regarding drilling and drilling regulations.
One resident, Ed Sabo, asked at the public hearing what is required to change the law so that the city has some say.
Ohio is still a very rural, agricultural state and there is much support for oil and gas drilling from legislators south of Route 18.
“Even if our representatives make a great effort (against drilling) it is highly unlikely that they would be successful. The policy is to drill, drill, drill,” Kelly said. “They do not care.”
What the community can do is refuse drillers who come knocking, asking property owners to sign on to a well.
“Talk to your neighbors, talk to a lawyer. If enough people start saying no, maybe it will end there,” Antoskiewicz said.
Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck agreed.
“If you are ever approached, please get an attorney,” he said. “Please, ask for help if you get something like this.”
Stefanik encouraged residents who do not want to be bothered by oil companies to sign up for the city Do Not Knock registry on the city’s Web site, northroyalton.org.
“If they keep pestering you, let us know. If you want to file a complaint for being pestered too much by these people, we will take that complaint as a police department,” the mayor said.
Problems in the past
Stefanik said he personally does not like the way Cutter does business and he doesn’t want Cutter or their wells, which have been responsible for significant mishaps including an oil spill, in the city.
“This all boils down to two simple facts – safety issues and concerns in North Royalton, and our property values which we’ve all seen go down, I believe personally, where there is an oil well drilled,” he said. “Back in 2008, when the ODNR came to North Royalton, we asked them questions, and they said this was safe, nothing to worry about whatsoever. Fast forward to 2013, and we have gone through several, huge oil issues in North Royalton, including one of our elementary schools where a rod came flying out of a wellhead.”
He also made mention of the oil leak near Mercury that spilled 200 to 300 gallons of gas into the soil and Chippewa Creek in August of 2011, and the Apollo incident in March last year where homes had to be evacuated after built-up pressure was released from that well as a safety mechanism, known as burping. Residents reported what sounded like a train and phoned 911. The fire department and Cutter responded. Residents were evacuated as a precaution.
“Knowing what we know now, everyone can agree that this isn’t for our community. We don’t want it here. I don’t like the way Cutter does business in North Royalton. I don’t know if they do this in other cities. This is an urban community, it’s not southern Ohio,” Stefanik said.
Cutter Oil moving forward
Stefanik said after the public hearing that Cutter was so confident that the mandatory pool would be OK’d by the ODNR, that it circulated a letter to residents May 13, the day before the Columbus and city hearings, notifying them that the drilling would proceed.
“The arrogance,” Stefanik said, shaking his head.
Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw said at the public hearing that he doesn’t appreciate bullying and said that’s just what Cutter Oil does.
“Actions speak louder than words. Cutter Oil’s actions, they act like bullies. There’s no way around it,” he said. “And they’re sitting in the back of the room, and I’m not intimidated by them as a councilman. It’s too bad they didn’t speak today, but that’s alright. We don’t appreciate bullies in this city. We don’t tolerate that, and especially when it comes to our safety, our environment and most importantly, our rights.”
CJ Cutter attended the city hearing but again did not speak. He could be overheard afterward speaking with a few residents, reassuring them how safe wells are. So safe in fact, that he has a well mere feet from his own home. He also told them that 46 out of the 48 homeowners in the proposed drill unit signed on, which makes a statement, he said, that those residents want the well.
When asked to comment, Cutter refused.
Shirley Schewzow said she signed into a drilling unit in the past but completely regrets her decision. She has serious concerns now about the proximity of the well and her family’s health.
“My husband had cancer, and (it’s in remission),” she said, in tears before council. “But I’m scared. I’m really scared.”
Antoskiewicz said wells bring to mind the old adage that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When wells first started cropping up in North Royalton, the city didn’t have any experience with them and was told they were safe and a good thing.
“I would like to say that anyone I’ve talked to who signed up for an oil well in North Royalton, no one has ever said they would do it again. Everyone has always said, ‘Boy, I wish I could go back in time.’ We thought some of the things that were being presented were good and that it wasn’t going to be hurtful, harmful and that it wasn’t going to create the problems it has created. At this point, we know better,” he said. “Hopefully we get through this and move on from here and educate the residents. We need your help … you need to tell people, neighbors what your experience was and what they need to do.”
Stefanik said not to give up and that North Royalton as a community needs to keep contacting legislators about urban drilling.
“We really need to get on the legislator’s backs. We’re going to put them on the spot in the next few months and find out where they really stand on this,” the mayor said. “I would appreciate it if everyone would keep up the good fight. Talk to your neighbors and friends. The easiest way to stop this from spreading in the city is to say, ‘No, we will not sign.’”