STEUBENVILLE - Jefferson County officials said a pending state law will put "teeth" into a road use agreement with companies drilling for natural gas in Ohio.
The county has a road use agreement with drillers, mainly Chesapeake Energy, that has resulted in 11 miles of county roads being rebuilt and repaved at a cost of more than $4 million to the company. The county asks that the road work be done prior to heavy equipment being moved onto a well site.
Representatives of the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Ohio Department of Development met with county officials on Wednesday to explain a statewide road use agreement and proposed changes in the permitting process for natural gas wells.
PROTECTING ROADS — Representatives of the Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday discussed a statewide road use agreement and changes in the permitting process for natural gas wells with local officials. Talking after the meeting were, from left, Jefferson County Engineer James Branagan; county Commissioner Tom Gentile; William Damschroder, ODNR chief legal counsel; Jason Wilson, director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia; and Jerry Wray, ODOT director. - Mark Law
William Damschroder, ODNR chief legal counsel, said there is a law pending in the state legislature that will require drilling companies have a road use agreement in place with local officials prior to applying for a drilling permit. In fact, the drilling company won't be allowed to begin work on preparing a drilling pad prior to a permit being issued, Damschroder said of the proposed state law change. Currently, a drilling company can begin construction of the drilling pad prior to applying for a drilling permit, he said.
If an agreement can't be reached, the drilling company has to supply an affidavit that a good-faith effort was made to reach an agreement, Damschroder said. The affidavit must contain the company's proposed road use agreement and proof of meetings with local officials to discuss the matter.
"We are confident the regulatory changes proposed will be accepted (by the legislature)," Damschroder said.
Jerry Wray, ODOT director, said the state agency is in the process of putting together a template other counties can use for road use agreements. Wray said meetings will be held throughout Eastern Ohio with officials to inform them of the road use agreement template.
"We want the roads to be kept in as good a condition and, hopefully, made even better," he said.
Wray said the state's template is similar to the road use agreement in effect in Jefferson County.
"We wanted to develop a consistent agreement so the (gas) operators understand it. If can be modified if it needs to be," Wray said.
Damschroder said the gas drillers want to know what is expected of them on a consistent basis.
Jefferson County Commissioner Tom Gentile said he was pleased with what he heard from the state officials Wednesday.
"I'm very happy to have the state on board with the same goals and objectives of protecting county and township roads. It is a flexible agreement that allows us to deal with varying conditions at each well site. I'm happy to have the oversight of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources," Gentile said.
Jefferson County Engineer James Branagan said the state road use agreement is similar to the one in Jefferson County.
"It is a good starting point for other counties," he said.
Branagan said the county can be flexible in road improvement demands based on the time of the year. He said the county may allow a drilling site to begin in the winter months when it is is difficult to do road improvements.
Salem Township Trustee Terry Bell said the language in the proposed changes in the well permitting process puts "teeth" into any road use agreement.
"The information provided to us from ODNR and ODOT was extremely encouraging," Bell said.
Bell said he was pleased the proposed law forces the drilling companies to negotiate in good faith with the county and townships on a road use agreement prior to any drilling permit being issued.