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Ohio Panel OKs New Drilling Rules; More Inspectors Coming

A legislative panel in Ohio has cleared four rules proposed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), which include new requirements for the permitting and construction of oil and natural gas wells and rules governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Meanwhile the ODNR said it will hire up to 70 additional employees this year, including field inspectors who will visit oil and natural gas wells in the state's booming Marcellus and Utica shale regions.

On Monday the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR), which is composed of 10 members of the Ohio General Assembly, cleared the ODNR's proposals after determining they met six rulemaking criteria. Larry Wolpert, the panel's executive director, told NGI's Shale Daily that the legislators gave the clearance without any advance discussion, but said that wasn't unusual.

"JCARR doesn't approve the rules; under statute the committee of 10 are to make sure that the rules don't violate any one of the six [criteria]," Wolpert said. Those criteria are:

Wolpert said the ODNR first filed its new rules with JCARR on March 14, but then submitted them again with minor changes on April 4. ODNR spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans told NGI's Shale Daily that the four rules -- which address general provisions, permitting, well construction and industry standards -- would likely take effect on Aug. 1.

"The rules are a good package that was put together with care over time," Thomas E. Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association (OOGA), told NGI's Shale Daily. "They concentrated primarily on updating well construction practices to meet the modern challenges of development here in the state of Ohio. What was remarkable about them is that they weren't rushed, they were well thought through. I'm confident that it's good public policy."

The 10 legislators on the JCARR committee are Reps. John Carney (D-Clintonville), Mike Duffey (R-Worthington), Bill Hayes (R-Pataskala), Tracy Maxwell Heard (D-Columbus) and Ross McGregor (R-Springfield), and Sens. Dave Burke (R-Marysville), Kris Jordan (R-Powell), Frank LaRose (R-Akron), Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood) and Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus).

On Tuesday, ODNR Director James Zehringer said the agency needed additional inspectors to ensure that the Buckeye State had a strong regulatory regimen.

"I have personally reached out to my counterparts in other states to learn from their experiences with the growing shale industry, and the lessons we've learned from other states have helped Ohio put in place tough and environmentally responsible drilling regulations," Zehringer said. "These safeguards will not be enough, however, unless we also have the right number of inspectors on the ground with the training to be able to monitor and enforce our new laws and environmental protections.

"A strong regulatory staff at ODNR will enable inspectors to be present at every critical stage of well construction, ensuring these sophisticated structures are built in a manner that protects both our people and ecosystem."

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