Bill before Ohio Legislature proposes more funding for plugging abandoned oil and gas wells

Written by: Chris Hogan, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The Ohio House of Representatives is considering a bill that would affect farmers and rural landowners by requiring the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management (ODNR) to plug abandoned oil and gas wells within 60 days, under certain circumstances.   Introduced by Rep. Andy Thompson (R-Marietta), House Bill 225 would permit a landowner to report an idle or abandoned well to ODNR, who then must inspect the well and plug it if it’s deemed “distressed-high priority.”

Inspection of Idle or Abandoned Wells

Under HB 225, ODNR would be required to inspect an idle or abandoned well within 30 days after a landowner reports the existence of such a well on their property.  No later than 60 days after the inspection, ODNR would be required to provide the landowner with a report concerning the idle or abandoned well that categorizes the well as one of the following:

  • Distressed-high priority;
  • Moderate-medium priority; and
  • Maintenance-low priority.

HB 225 would require ODNR to adopt rules to define these three categories. In adopting these rules, ODNR must include a description of the criteria for an idle or abandoned well to fit within a particular category.

Plugging an Idle or Abandoned Well

If a well is categorized as distressed-high priority, it must be plugged by ODNR within six months after the report.  Perhaps most interesting for Ohio landowners, HB 225 could increase the amount of funding available for landowners who choose to plug a well on their property themselves.  Currently, landowners may arrange to have the well plugged by a third party.  Under current Ohio Revised Code 1509.071(D), a landowner may be reimbursed for plugging costs; however, wells are plugged on a priority basis until the funds for the program are depleted.  ODNR administers this law, otherwise known as the Orphan Well Program.  More information on the current program is here.

Under HB 225, landowners would be permitted to take an income tax deduction for compensation paid by ODNR to reimburse landowners’ costs to plug an abandoned or improperly plugged oil or gas well. Current law requires ODNR to approve an application for reimbursement by a landowner.  A landowner’s application must comply with oil and gas plugging laws and regulations for safety and environmental reasons.

Proposed Increase in Funding Under the Oil and Gas Well Fund

HB 225 would likely increase the funds available to Ohio landowners for plugging idle or abandoned wells. Ohio law currently requires that 14% of the current Oil and Gas Well Fund be dedicated to plugging idle and abandoned wells. HB 225 would require ODNR to dedicate 45% of the fund to plug idle and abandoned wells.  ODNR would also be required to issue quarterly reports regarding expenditures associated with plugging wells.  ODNR may therefore offer more funding to landowners to plug wells, because of the increase in funding and the requirement to show expenditures on the plugging of wells.

However, the proposed increase in funding may lead to an increase in ODNR’s expenditures on plugging wells.  The proposed increase could also drive the number of wells that the state plugs.  Under the strict timeline requirements that HB 225 proposes, ODNR may subsequently plug more wells after a landowner notifies ODNR of abandoned wells on their property.

The Future of HB 225

At a committee hearing earlier this month, witnesses testified that there are likely hundreds of wells that haven’t been discovered because they’ve been farmed over and covered by urban development. According to Rep. Thompson, most of the orphan wells that have been identified emit methane gas in addition to often contributing to the runoff of oil and brine into the soil. Rep. Thompson also noted that it is estimated that the current program for plugging abandoned wells in Ohio would take 20 years or more to plug the more than 600 known orphan wells in the state. Members of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association voiced support for HB 225, noting that the taxes levied on oil and gas production should be used to correct problems that have arisen from the early days of the industry.

More information on HB 225 is here.  Ohio’s current law regarding plugging idle and abandoned wells is here, under R.C 1509.071(D).

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Ohio Department of Agriculture proposes amendments to maple syrup, sorghum, and honey regulations

Written by Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) will hold a public hearing on July 19, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. to accept written and oral comments on its proposed amendments to the maple syrup, sorghum, and honey rules in the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC).

Amendments and changes to the maple syrup, sorghum, and honey rules are proposed for parts of OAC chapters 901:3-44, 901:3-45, and 901:3-46, including substantive changes that address antibiotics in honey, grades and standards for maple syrup, labeling related to maple syrup grades, and requirements for food grade materials to be used for honey, maple syrup, and sorghum.   With these proposed changes and amendments, ODA seems to be trying to make the rules for honey, maple syrup, and sorghum more in line with federal rules and standards.  In addition, safety of honey, maple syrup, and sorghum products seems to be at the forefront with a broader antibiotic exclusion in honey products, and the requirement to use “food grade materials” for honey, maple syrup, and sorghum. The sections below will discuss each of these proposed changes in turn.

No antibiotics allowed in honey

It is proposed that OAC 901:3-44-01 be amended to remove references to specific antibiotics and to instead simply state that any antibiotics, in any amount, “render the honey” or its beeswax as “adulterated.”

Maple syrup rules to correspond with federal rules and standards

ODA has proposed striking the current OAC 901:3-45-01, which outlines voluntary grades and standards for maple syrup, and replacing it with language that incorporates the grading and color classifications put forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  In other words, ODA is proposing that Ohio replace its current language with the grades and color classifications for maple syrup used by the federal government.  What is more, if this amendment is adopted, it appears as though grading and color classifications would no longer be voluntary.

ODA’s proposed amendment for OAC 901:3-45-03 involves deleting “Ohio” and inserting “U.S.”  This change would mean that the labeling requirements for grading maple syrup would follow federal standards instead of state standards.  The adoption of federal grade labeling, as well as of federal grading and color classifications, would make it easier to sell and ship maple syrup produced in Ohio outside of the state.

Food grade materials for honey, maple syrup, and sorghum

The proposed changes to OAC 901:3-45-04, 901:3-45-05, 901:3-46-06, 901:3-46-07 all include the addition of the requirement that containers be made of food grade materials. Accordingly, the proposed changes would require that all of the following be made of food grade materials:

  • Maple syrup packaging,
  • Bulk containers (barrels, drums, etc.) for maple syrup,
  • Packaging for products from maple syrup processors, sorghum processors, and beekeepers exempt from mandatory inspection, and
  • Bulk containers for products from maple syrup processors, sorghum processors, and beekeepers exempt from mandatory inspection.

“Food grade material” is defined in OAC 901:3-46-01 as “a material that when in contact with food will remain safe, durable, free of rust, non-absorbent, and will not allow the migration of deleterious substances, impart color, odor, or taste to food under normal use.”

More information about attending the hearing or sending in comments (including when written comments must be received), and a brief overview of each change is available here.   A draft of the proposed amendments and revisions is here.

 

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Proposal extends hunting and fishing license exemptions for grandchildren

A bill in Ohio’s House of Representatives proposes amending Ohio’s hunting and fishing laws to expand exemptions from hunting, fishing and trapping licenses for grandchildren of landowners.

House Bill 272, sponsored by Rep. Householder (R—Glenford) and Rep. Kick (R—Loudonville) proposes a change to current law, which permits grandchildren to hunt, fish or trap on their grandparent’s land without a license only up to the age of 18.  The proposal revises the law to allow grandchildren “of any age” to be exempt from licensing requirements when hunting, fishing or trapping on their grandparent’s land.

The bill also extends hunting and fishing privileges to veterans. The proposed legislation would provide a partially disabled veteran the same free hunting and fishing license privilege currently afforded to a veteran with a total disability.

“Hunting and fishing are family activities,” said Rep. Householder upon introducing the bill. “They should be enjoyed without government intrusion.”

H.B. 272 is currently before the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is available for viewing here.

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Ohio Will Soon Permit Certain Agricultural Utility Vehicles to Travel on Public Roads

Written by: Chris Hogan, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

A new Ohio law affects farmers that plan to use certain utility vehicles this planting season, including Gators, Mules and other utility vehicles with a bed designed to transport cargo. The new law is part of the 2018-2019 transportation budget, formally known as House Bill 26. HB 26, which goes into effect on June 30, 2017, permits vehicles to travel on any public road or right of way—other than a freeway, when travelling from one farm field to another for agricultural purposes.

Under HB 26, utility vehicles are now expressly required to display a triangular Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) emblem. Previously, it was up to local law enforcement to interpret the law and decide whether a utility vehicle should have a SMV. The new law also clearly allows utility vehicles to travel on public roads between farm fields, whereas the old law required farmers to know whether the county or township allowed utility vehicles on the road. Utility vehicle operators can read more about the old law in our previous blog post on APVs, ATVs, and four-wheelers here.

What Qualifies as a “Utility Vehicle?”

Farmers should be aware that this law only covers what it defines as “utility vehicles.” This means that the law only applies to vehicles designed with a bed, for transporting material or cargo related to agricultural activities. Not all ATVs and APVs will be included in this definition.

What to Know Before Driving a Utility Vehicle on the Road

The law is good news for farmers who plan to use utility vehicles this season. If farmers plan to use a utility vehicle on the farm, they should know the following before taking the vehicle out:

  • In order to use a utility vehicle on a public road, a driver must be traveling from one farm field to another farm field for agricultural purposes.
  • Utility vehicle drivers must display a SMV on any utility vehicle used on a public road as it travels between farm fields.
  • Ohio Revised Code Section 5589.10 prohibits the placement of earth, mud, manure, or other injurious materials on a public highway. Therefore, farmers should avoid leaving such debris in the roadway or clean up the roadway if a utility vehicle leaves mud behind.

More information on HB 26 is here, under Sec. 4511.216 on page 328 of the bill.

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Selling Foods at the Farm: When Do You Need a License?

With spring in full swing and summer just around the corner, many producers may be considering selling produce, meats, cottage foods and baked goods directly to consumers at the farm property. A question we often hear from farmers thinking about these types of farm food sales is, “do I need some type of license or inspection to sell food from the farm?” The answer to this question depends upon the type of food offered for sale:

  • Sales of foods such as fresh produce or cottage foods do not require a license.
  • Sales of certain types of baked goods require a home bakery license.
  • Sales of multiple types of foods or higher risk foods require a farm market registration or a retail food establishment (RFE) license.
  • The home bakery license, farm market registration, and RFE license involve inspections of the production or sales area.

It is important for a producer to carefully assess the food sales situation and comply with the appropriate licensing or registration requirements. To do so, a producer should identify the type and number of food products he or she will sell and whether the food poses low or high food safety risk.

Our new Law Bulletin, Selling Foods at the Farm: When Do You Need a License? will help producers assess their situations and determine their needs for appropriate licensing, registration, or inspections.  Read the bulletin on http://farmoffice.osu.edu, here.

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Ohio’s Western Basin of Lake Erie will not be listed as ‘impaired’

EPA reaches decision on Ohio’s list of impaired waters

Written by Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally rendered a decision on Ohio’s list of impaired waters following several months of delay and two lawsuits filed to compel the EPA to make a decision. (For a background on impaired waters and the two lawsuits, check out our previous blog posts here and here.)   On May 19, 2017, the EPA decided to accept the Ohio EPA’s proposed list of impaired waters for the State of Ohio.  Ohio’s list does not include the open waters in the Western Basin of Lake Erie.   However, the State of Michigan’s list of impaired waters previously approved by the EPA does include the open waters in its portion of the Western Basin of Lake Erie.

The EPA explained that the agency deferred to Ohio’s judgment not to include the open waters of the Western Basin of Lake Erie on the impaired waters list.  “EPA recognizes the State’s ongoing efforts to control nutrient pollution in the Western Basin of Lake Erie,” stated Chris Korleski, EPA’s Region 5 Water Division Director and previously Ohio’s EPA Director.   “EPA understands that Ohio EPA intends to evaluate options for developing objective criteria (e.g., microcystin or other metrics) for use in making decisions regarding the Western Basin for the 2018 list.  EPA expects the development of appropriate metrics, and is committed to working with you on them.”

For now, the EPA appears satisfied with Ohio’s plan for addressing nutrient reductions in Lake Erie’s Western Basin.  It is possible, however, that additional lawsuits could be filed against the EPA in order to reconcile Ohio and Michigan’s different designations of water in the same general area.

Read the EPA’s Approval of Ohio’s Submission of the State’s Integrated Report with Respect to Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act here.

 

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Another lawsuit filed over Ohio’s list of impaired waters

Written by Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

On May 17, 2017, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and two of its members filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  ELPC filed the lawsuit to compel the EPA to either accept or reject Ohio’s list of impaired waters.  In April, the National Wildlife Federation and other groups sued the EPA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for the same reason.  For more information on the first lawsuit and a more thorough background on the topic, read our previous blog post.

Federal regulation under the Clean Water Act requires states to submit lists every two years of waters they determine to be impaired.  The regulation also requires the EPA to either accept or reject the state listings within thirty days.  The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency submitted its list of impaired waters on October 20, 2016.  The list did not include the open waters of the western basin of Lake Erie.  The EPA has not made a decision on Ohio’s list.

To make the situation more complex, Michigan did include its share of the open waters of the western basin of Lake Erie on its list.  What is more, the EPA approved of Michigan’s impaired waters list.  The plaintiffs in both of these lawsuits seem to hope that forcing the EPA to make a decision on Ohio’s impaired list will resolve the differences in the two states’ listing of waters in the same general area of Lake Erie.

ELPC filed the lawsuit in the Toledo office of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, citing its proximity to Lake Erie, and in particular, to the pollution problem in the western basin of the lake.   ELPC’s press release on its lawsuit is available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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