NORTH ROYALTON – Sheree Boesch, a South Red Oak resident, lives near a Cutter Oil Company well and said not a day goes by that she doesn’t worry about the health of her two young children.
“Articles are coming out saying that benzene, a known carcinogen that causes cancer, is being emitted from these wells. My babies are breathing in benzene, and that just makes me want to throw up right here,” she said at a utilities meeting April 16.
Boesch and dozens of her neighbors attended the meeting to vehemently oppose Cutter’s most recent oil well proposal for the Planets subdivision.
Wells have far reaching impacts, residents claim. Impacts on health, safety, quality of life and property values.
Boesch has been able to lower the tax value of her property three times, a total of 30-40 percent, through the board of revisions because of the well.
“We cited the well as a reason and they said, ‘say no more’,” she said.
There’s a quality of life issue too.
Boesch enjoys going for walks and being outside, but she can no longer do that.
“Every time I step outside, I smell gas and oil and God knows what other chemicals. They don’t belong as my neighbors,” she said. “I beg all of you that are on the fence to think of us and say no. We are ready to sell our house and get out of this minefield of wells.”
This well lease is before council because city property on Saturn, Jupiter and Athena drives is required to complete the drilling unit. If council nixes the lease next month, as four councilmen publicly said they intend to do, CJ Cutter has indicated he will mandatorily, or forcefully, pool the city’s land, along with the property of the two sole residents who have refused to be part of the well unit. This unit includes nearly 50 homes. The city has never been mandatorily pooled.
Oil wells are very controversial and have often divided neighbors, even councilmen. Residents, by law, have rights to the minerals on their properties, however, urban drilling strikes a huge nerve in this densely populated community. Wells are often pitched as safe with accidents being a rarity, but North Royalton has witnessed two mechanical malfunctions, one at the Valley Vista Elementary School well in 2008 and the Mercury oil spill in 2011.
Most of the residents who attended the utilities meeting are not part of this current lease agreement, but live near the proposed site and have a list of worries.
Lisa Ostruh has a Cutter well behind her home. She said a home on her street sold for $100,000 less than its market value.
“That is disgusting. I have been here since 1990 and have had four homes in North Royalton. I will be leaving. I am done with North Royalton,” she said.
Ward 5 Councilman Steve Muller asked Ostruh and another resident if they were involved in a lease. The two admitted that they were naïve and uneducated about wells at the time they signed and live with regrets.
They were led to believe that the well was a done deal with or without them, so they signed.
Last month’s royalty check was less than $70.
“If people think they are going to get wealthy, we’re not Jethro and Ellie May,” Ostruh said.
Gus Arlento has regrets too.
“Every day I look at that thing and think, ‘what an ass,’” he said of the well near his home.
People often turn to the city for help or believe that the city permits wells and regulates them, but municipalities have no say in wells. They cannot forbid them nor regulate them. This authority was taken away by the state and given to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
All cities can do is yay or nay a lease agreement when city land is needed for a drilling unit, which is the case with this current lease.
Many city officials have become disenchanted too.
The lease for this well from Cutter requested 1.9 acres of city property originally. But Cutter came back with a second agreement, “a sweeter pot,” Mayor Bob Stefanik called it, that includes seven acres of city land, which would equate to more royalties for the city and less for the residents in the lease. If Cutter mandatorily pools, the pooling will only use the 1.9 acres of the city’s land, and not the seven acres. Some say this is punishment for not agreeing to the lease.
“In the first lease he used the streets he had to use, but when he heard that wasn’t going well he used all the streets within the 20 acres. It’s like when you have been buying a product from someone for many years and you find it somewhere else cheaper and suddenly the person you were buying from offers the cheaper price. I don’t like that type of salesmanship,” Stefanik said. “He’s a businessman and he’s doing everything he can to get what he wants. Bottom line, it’s all about money to him.”
Several councilmen assured residents they would not be lending their support to this well agreement – Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck, Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw, Council President Larry Antoskiewicz and Ward 2 Councilman Gary Petrusky.
“No resident that contacted me had anything positive to say. I will not be lending my support,” Marnecheck, vice chair of utilities, said.
Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris, who chairs utilities, said he is leaning toward a no vote too.
“The residents spoke loud and clear. I have never voted against one before but the location and issues surrounding it warrants me considering voting no,” he said.
Ward 1 Councilman John Nickell declined to comment after the meeting.
Cutter attended the committee meeting, though he did not speak.
Several residents cornered him after the meeting. He took time to speak with every resident that approached him and could be overheard clarifying certain things, apologizing and promising to get to the bottom of some concerns.
One resident asked him to look into the noise of a nearby well, which Cutter agreed to do.
“I will probably go by and check it out tonight,” he said in an interview with The Post after the meeting.
Ostruh mentioned that idling oil trucks repeatedly wake her at 5 a.m. Cutter told her he was unaware but would make sure they show up no earlier than 7 a.m. from now on. He even gave her his cell phone number and told her to call should any other issues arise.
“I do care. I am a guest in this city, but people make me out to be a monster. I’m not. I can’t fix things if I don’t know about them,” Cutter said.
When asked about low royalties, he said there is no way to know what a well will truly produce until it begins producing. Dipped royalties mean less money in his pocket too.
“My revenues go down too. But there is no way to know what it will produce until you drill it,” he said.
There are 20 to 25 Cutter wells in the city, and he stands behind each and every well 100 percent.
“You’re damn right I do. I have two wells by my house. One is 142 feet away. Why would I do that if I thought they were unsafe? I wouldn’t do anything in their yard that I wouldn’t do in my own,” Cutter said.
As for the chemicals used in the fracking process, he firmly maintains that the majority of material used is water and sand.
“That’s a fact. A new law requires that all chemicals be disclosed, so you can see what is used,” he said.
The Valley Vista incident and the Mercury oil spill, Cutter said, were both flaws in the metal that was used and a fluke. He said these wells are not out of sight, out of mind, that he was there to help.
“I responded and crude oil rained down on me,” he said of the Valley Vista incident. “I was there when the [expletive deleted] hit the fan. I stayed here all weekend,” he added of the oil spill. “I was there doing what I could. Yes, we care about these residents. But, it’s not going to change these people’s minds.”
Stefanik said residents should look at one of his wells and be the judge on whether or not Cutter truly cares.
“Take a ride to any of his wells and tell me if you would want to live next to that,” the mayor said.
When asked if he would mandatorily pool the city if council votes the lease down, Cutter’s answer was simple.
“Yes,” he said.
The city will not stand idly by.
“We will fight the mandatory pool and go down to Columbus and object. To me, in this case, mandatorily pooling the city is mandatorily pooling 30,000 people. It’s definitely a different situation,” Antoskiewicz said. “Cutter doesn’t care. He’s going to keep going and knocking on doors for these wells. Some he will need us on, some he won’t. He’ll just keep doing what he does. But we will fight this.”
Marnecheck is upset with the concept of mandatory pooling too.
“Mandatory force pooling means a homeowner is not in control of how much their backyard or health are worth,” he said.
Kasaris agrees and is upset that Cutter would force the city and burn bridges.
“To mandatorily pool a city, in my opinion, is repugnant of good government. It’s just bad. Just bad,” Kasaris said. “Let’s fight it as long as we can fight it. The odds are against us, but it can’t hurt to do it. We’ll see what happens. You never know what happens unless you try.”
The city will host a public hearing at 6 p.m. May 14 for residents to voice their concerns a final time before council votes on the lease May 21.