Appalachian Basin

The Truth about Permitting In Ohio

A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch, entitled “Drillers: Ohio easy place to do business in,” left readers with the impression that Ohio has a rubber stamp system for permitting oil and gas development, and by extension a lack of proper scrutiny on safety and environmental protection. While it’s true that Ohio has an incredibly efficient permitting system, make no mistake: bringing a well online requires a heckuva lot more than a handshake and a couple of signatures.

In preparation for developing a well in Ohio — that means before securing an actual permit to drill — an operator must first fill out and submit an authority and organization form to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), specifically the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management (DOGRM).  This form essentially acts as a registration of your company to develop oil and gas in the state.

Once the company has filed its notice to operate in the state, the company must next follow the bonding requirements set forth by Ohio Revised Code.  In addition to fulfilling the bonding requirements, companies must also make sure they meet the liability insurance requirements, also established by the Ohio Revised Code.  Both of these requirements must be met before the division will even consider moving forward with permitting.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but to put this in perspective: think about filling out those lovely forms at the DMV to get a driver’s license or license plates. Not exactly a fun and simple process, is it?

Once these qualifications have been met, the company can begin obtaining a permit.  The company must first fill out the application detailing how and where the well will be developed.  These items include:

  • Type of Well- Vertical, Directional, Horizontal, etc.
  • Type of Drill- Rotary, Cable, Service
  • Proposed Cementing and Casing Program- Up to 7 different casing strings, detailing Borehole depth and length; Casing depth and length; Cement volume and each formation the casings will be cemented back to the surface
  • General Information- Including API Well#, Formation, Lease Name, Location, Acreage, etc
  • Source of water used in production
  • EMA Contact Information
  • Road Use Maintenance Agreement

Even after all of the above-mentioned paperwork and filings are completed, an operator has still only barely scratched the surface in terms of developing a well.

After the company has filled out and submitted its application for permit, ODNR must review the permit to check for completeness.  The permit must be filled out correctly and have the proper fees in place to permit the well.  If they deem the permit not to be complete, it goes back to the company to correct and re-file. (To continue the analogy, have you ever made a mistake on a DMV form after waiting in line for two hours — and had to redo it? Yeah, that.)

If the permit is deemed complete, then local officials, possible affected mine owners, and the inspector are notified of the permit.  The permit name is also posted on the ODNR website. 

Next, the company must submit the Surveyors Plat, in which a certified surveyor will map the pad site the company plans to use when developing the well.  The company also has to develop a restoration plan for when they plan to reclaim the site.  ODNR must approve both of these plans.  In addition, the company must sign and notarize the landowner affidavit certifying it is permitted to develop the resources where the pad will be located. 

Operators must also fill out federal Clean Water Act 401 and 404 permits for wetlands and water quality to the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA to ensure the waters of Ohio are not negatively impacted by development.  Ever hear opponents of oil and gas development claim the industry is “exempt” from the Clean Water Act? Not true.

Once these permits have been reviewed and approved — and when you’re talking about the EPA, that’s hardly a given — it is now time for ODNR to perform the technical review of the drilling permit.  ODNR checks to make sure the casing and cementing plan is sufficient to properly produce from the well, while also ensuring that groundwater will remain protected under the Safe Drinking Water Act (yet another “exemption” talking point from the activist community is shattered). The reviewers check the geology, casing plans, as well as any special permit conditions.  Once they are assured the well construction is sufficient, technical review is complete.

Ready to drill, right? Wrong.

Next, the operator performs water testing for all homes within 1,500 feet of the wellhead, as mandated by Ohio SB 315.  The results are distributed to the landowners, ODNR, as well as the company.

If there is going to be a fresh water impoundment on site, then these impoundments will also be regulated by ODNR. Two separate offices within ODNR — DOGRM or Soil and Water Division — oversee impoundments, depending on the size.   

To build the actual well pad, there are still a few more items that need to be attended to. 

First off, the operator must get permits from the Ohio Department of Transportation for driveway permits for lease roads, and the company must obtain overweight and/or over length hauling permits to allow them to get the materials to build the pad.  Of course, these permits would all be moot if the township trustees, county engineer, and the county commissioners have not signed off on the proposed Road Use Maintenance Agreement.

Each pad site also has sanitary needs, which of course need to be permitted as well.  These facilities are inspected by the Ohio EPA and Department of Health.

Okay, so the site has been constructed.  The permits are in place, and now the operator is ready to notify ODNR that it is ready to spud the well. 

Err, not so fast. 

The operator must also work with the EPA and Ohio EPA to file a SPCC Plan.  SPCC stands for Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure rule, which includes requirements for spill prevention, preparedness, and response to prevent discharges to navigable waters. 

In addition to the SPCC plan the operators file with the Ohio EPA, operators must also file for an permit to install and operate (PTIO) air permits with the Ohio EPA for their production facilities that will be onsite.  The PTIO regulates emissions that would be coming from a production site as regulated under the Clean Air Act — yet another one of those laws that anti development folks like to pretend the industry is “exempt” from.

Many know the industry uses an average of five million gallons of water to hydraulically fracture a Utica Shale well.  But how does the industry obtain that water?  There are a variety of places an operator can get its water: public water supplies, which are permitted by the Ohio EPA; drill a water well, for which they would have to obtain a permit from ODNR and the local health department; or from a pond, for which they would also have to register with ODNR.

Obviously, this extensive process is a lot to take in, so here is a diagram to give a better description of the planning and permitting that goes into developing a well.

But wait, we still need pipelines to get the gas to market!But what does it take to permit a pipeline?

Permitting pipelines is another extremely time intensive component of oil and gas development that many seem to forget.To get gas from the well to market, there are various surveys and permits that each company must follow for each and every pipeline it installs.

First off, a pipeline company must obtain a Nationwide 12 Permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.  In addition to the general requirements set forth by Nationwide 12, the company must also perform due diligence on a variety of other items:

  • Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species – Companies must consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and ODNR to ensure creatures like the Indiana Bats and Hellbender salamander are not negatively impacted in Ohio;
  • Cultural Resources Management – Companies must also ensure they are not affecting areas that hold some historical or archeological significance like Native American burial grounds; and
  • Wetlands and Waterways Surveys —  These surveys help mitigate any disturbance to wetlands, stream or river crossings and ponds.

If companies run into these items and are not able to mitigate them, the companies may have to re-route to pipeline altogether — which can often entail going back to square one in this process.

Of course, these companies also have to obtain permits from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which regulates gathering lines in Ohio.  The pipeline companies have to complete a Pre-Construction Notice as well as an As Built Notice. If a company has to go through a floodplain, then the company has to submit a floodplain notification to the County Floodplain Administrator.

If the companies happen to run into an area controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in which Corps holds perpetual rights, then the company must obtain a federal Flowage Easement.  ACE has the right to approve or deny any request on this matter, which is typically a three month process.

Pipelines tend to run straight and incorporate long distances of travel to get to processing plants or to transmission lines.  To achieve this, companies must get Driveway Occupancy Permits and Highway Occupancy Permits from the Ohio Department of Transmission, County, Township, Village or other divisions.  If a pipeline needs to cross a railroad, the pipeline company must obtain a railroad permit from the railroad operator or owner, which may take up to four months.

Of course, operators also need trucks to haul pipe and equipment, so just like oil and gas companies, the pipelines need to obtain road use maintenance agreements from the county.

Okay, but once we’ve got the well and pipeline approvals, now surely we’re done with the permitting process, right? Wrong.

To move the product from point A to B, we also need compressor stations, which are permitted the same as the pipelines but include one more significant component.

Air permitting is needed on all compressor stations to remain in compliance with the Clean Air Act (yet another “exemption” argument blown away).  Depending on the facility, air permitting involves the preparation of detail permit documents, air dispersion modeling, and design drawings and calculations.  Typically, permitting timelines are 3-6 months for minor facilities and can be 12-18 months for large, complex compressor stations after a complete application is submitted to the Ohio EPA.  The permitting timeline also includes multiple public comment periods and public hearings.

If someone believes that permitting is easy in Ohio, they need to read this post again.  The real story is that these requirements have worked: How many environmental violations have we seen among the 89 Utica Shale wells drilled since passage of SB 315? Zero.

So, the fact that this entire, cumbersome process is both effective and can be completed in an efficient manner should not be conflated with an “easy” or rubber-stamp system that ignores safety. The record speaks for itself. We just wish the folks at the Columbus Dispatch would have actually looked at it before running headlong into a false narrative based on a few out of context remarks.

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